eNewsletter - October 2023

Navigating the 'Age of In Between'

By: Kelly Powell, MS, LCPC

Described as the “age of in between,” older adolescents emerging into adulthood may require unique support during a time of immense change.

Initially coined in 1995 by scholar Jefferey Arnett, PhD, the “Emerging Adult” population consists of people spanning age 18 to 25, but can occasionally include those as old as 29, depending on circumstance. This group often struggles with building independence, creating structure and routines, and transitions in life, such as high school to college or entering the workforce.

The stressors of entering adulthood and confusion about next steps can take a toll on mental health as well as interpersonal and social interactions and responsibilities. There are specific features that identify this stage in life:

The Five Features of Emerging Adulthood:

  1. Age of Identity Exploration: As young people enter this transitionary period, they are finding who they are and determining what they want out of school, work and life. They may be exploring relationships and career paths and benefit from outside support from those who have already experienced this stage of life.
  2. Age of Instability: This is a time of change. Emerging adults are moving away from home to live with friends or romantic partners. The years following high school are characterized by repeated residence changes, with these frequent moves often not ending until emerging adults begin settling down around their early 30s.
  3. Age of Self-Focus: For the first time, young people are free from parental expectations and the cyclical routine of school, extra-curriculars, homework, repeat. They want to explore as much as they can while attempting to decide what they want to do, where they want to go, and who they are before re-entering the constraints of family and routine.
  4. Age of Feeling In-Between: While these emerging adults feel the pressure and desire to take responsibility for themselves, many still do not completely feel “like an adult.” Although they are entering a new stage of independence and freedom, they remain closely tied to family and childhood social circles.
  5. Age of Possibilities: Most emerging adults believe they will have a life better than their parents. They are an optimistic group, often believing they will have every opportunity to create the best life possible. The world has opened for them in a freeing, yet often overwhelming way.

Unfortunately, according to Dr. Arnett, emerging adults are setting themselves up for disappointment due to their characteristic optimism. “If happiness is the difference between what you expect out of life and what you actually get,” he says, “a lot of emerging adults are setting themselves up for unhappiness because they expect so much."

A new program for emerging adults. Linden Oaks’ new Emerging Adult Program offers group therapy for young adults struggling with creating direction in life.

The program provides support and helps create and maintain realistic expectations of adulthood for the 18-25-year-old population through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Motivational Interviewing (MI), and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) to help address young adults’ needs and promote long-term growth. Occupational Therapy is incorporated to help young adults with establishing autonomy. Additionally, SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Timely) goals are set.

The program includes Intensive Outpatient Programming (IOP) or Partial Hospitalization Programming (PHP) and provides mental health treatment while also addressing key stressors, so young adults can gain a better sense of self and direction for their life.

The Emerging Adult Program assists patients in building life skills such as hygiene, nutrition, exercise, completing household tasks, attending school/study skills, organization and time management. The program specifically promotes self-accountability, in terms of taking on responsibilities previously held by parents. The program also addresses identity and navigating relationships. Because identity and sexuality are such a complex topic, each patient’s sexual orientation, gender, and substance use will be taken into consideration to provide the best support possible.

Find more resources: For more information on our Emerging Adult program, which meets Monday- Friday for 3-6 hours a day for an average of 3-5 weeks at Linden Oaks Outpatient Center in St. Charles, please call the Linden Oaks Help Line 24/7 at 630-305-5027.