Teens at Muir Wood enjoy game night

One-on-One Individual Therapy for Teens

One-on-one individual therapy for teens gives troubled teenagers the opportunity to speak openly about their experiences in a nonjudgmental, confidential, safe setting. A reliable therapist can be trusted with a young person’s fears, worries and hopes for the future.

One-on-one therapy takes place as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program. Sessions usually last for 45 minutes to one hour and take place in a therapist’s office, private rehab facility or mental health treatment center. Many teens are skeptical about sharing their deepest feelings with an adult they don’t know or trust. They may feel that the counselor is their enemy, the representative of an adult world that has already let them down.

Teens may naturally feel reluctant to expose their emotions to a grownup whom they don’t know, especially if they’ve been admitted to rehab involuntarily.

That’s why it’s so important to find a rehab program staffed by highly credentialed, experienced professionals who are equally committed to adolescent development and addiction treatment. Individual therapy sessions must provide a safe, neutral space for a struggling teen to talk about the issues that have driven him to addiction.

Approaches to Therapy for Teens

The therapeutic approach that works for an addicted adult won’t necessarily work for a teenager. According to the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), there are several key factors that set teenagers apart from adults:

  • Adolescents are at a vulnerable stage of emotional and psychological development, and their sense of identity is not yet fully formed.
  • The areas of the adolescent brain that control judgment and decision-making are still developing, while the areas in charge of risk-taking and impulsive behavior are dominant.
  • Teenagers are strongly influenced by peer pressure yet they still have intense, complicated bonds with their parents or guardians.
  • Substance abuse in teens may be a sign of rebellion, experimentation or emotional disturbance rather than a chronic illness.

It’s premature for therapists to assume that a teenager who has trouble with drugs or alcohol will develop a lifelong problem with substance abuse. At this stage of development, intensive therapy can make a big difference in a young person’s future, helping him avoid the devastating consequences of addiction. One of the therapist’s primary goals is to help the teenager build a strong, stable sense of self – one that will stand up to negative influences in the future.

There are several therapeutic models that have proven effective in treating addicted teens. Many substance abuse professionals draw from one or more styles of therapy in order to provide individualized care for their adolescent clients. Some of the most popular schools of therapy include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. Also known as CBT, this approach emphasizes the teen’s ability to make healthy changes in his life by replacing destructive thought patterns with positive, self-affirming ones. CBT helps teens overcome substance abuse by building self-esteem and making good decisions.
  • Motivational interviewing. In the past, substance abuse therapists practiced an aggressive, confrontational style, with the goal of breaking down the client’s will. Today, motivational interviewing, or MI, has replaced this approach. In MI, the therapist and client become collaborators, working together to solve the client’s problems. The therapist provides an environment of encouragement and positive reinforcement.
  • Multisystemic therapy. Multisystemic therapy, or MST, treats addiction as a problem that arises from various sources, including the teen’s family life, peer group and social environment. MST has been used successfully to treat children and teens with serious antisocial behavior.
  • Contingency management. These programs help prevent relapse by providing incentives for teens to stay sober. In contingency management programs, teenagers receive vouchers for sobriety. These vouchers can be used to pay for snacks, entertainment or other sober activities. Contingency management is usually used in combination with intensive psychotherapy.

Effective individual therapy can make a critical difference for teens who are abusing drugs or alcohol. The International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health points out that teenagers have a higher risk of substance abuse and suicide than the adult population and that these risks are often interrelated. Teenagers who commit suicide are almost 9 percent more likely to abuse drugs and almost 8 percent more likely to abuse alcohol.

Substance abuse greatly increases the risk of suicidal behavior and completed suicide in teenagers. It also increases the risk of aggression, accidental injury, motor vehicle accidents and unsafe sex. For all of these reasons and many more, it’s imperative to find an addiction specialist who can help a teen through this difficult phase.

Finding a Treatment Professional

Finding the right therapist for a teenager can be challenging. Mental health specialists who typically work with adults aren’t necessarily the best providers for teens. The therapist should be a licensed counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist or family therapist who understands the developmental challenges of adolescence.

Teens who participate in an adolescent treatment program can benefit from the knowledge of an experienced clinical staff. When searching for a rehab program for adolescents, look for a facility that provides the following:

  • Psychological testing to determine the best therapeutic approach for your teen
  • A staff of addiction treatment specialists who have extensive training and experience in adolescent substance abuse>
  • A program that offers intensive family counseling in conjunction with one-on-one individual therapy
  • A center that considers co-occurring conditions, such as depression, learning disorders or conduct disorders, when treating teens for substance abuse

Most teenagers won’t speak openly to a therapist on the first meeting. It takes time, compassion and patience to earn the trust of a boy who’s been through the pain of addiction. Many young men who abuse drugs or alcohol have trouble facing up to responsibility or being accountable for their own actions. They may come across as selfish and immature. Experienced adolescent therapists have the commitment and dedication that it takes to help these challenging clients become strong, successful adults.

Is My Teen Right for Therapy?

Teens who need guidance in the process of becoming mature, responsible, self-confident adults can benefit from individual therapy. If you suspect that your teen’s adolescent “rebellion” has spiraled into chemical dependence and substance abuse, a credentialed therapist can be a valuable ally for both you and your teen.

Your teenager may not like the idea of talking with an addiction treatment specialist individually. However, it’s important that addicted teens understand the consequences of remaining in the trap of addiction. The alternatives to intensive therapy could range from loss of privileges at home to legal problems, incarceration, poverty, injury and death.

For many addicted teens, mental illness is an underlying factor in substance abuse. According to Current Psychiatry Reports, the incidence of co-occurring psychiatric disorders and substance use disorders is higher in teens than in adults. Young people who are struggling with anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or other psychological conditions often turn to drugs or alcohol to manage their own symptoms. Teens who feel ostracized from their peer group because of behavioral disorders or learning disabilities may seek acceptance from other outsiders through drinking, drug use and risk-taking behaviors.

Intensive one-on-one counseling can help teens with co-occurring disorders achieve a full recovery. In addition to providing talk therapy, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners have the authority to prescribe medications that can help teens manage the symptoms of mental illness.

A Path to Total Healing

Recovering from addiction is not a solitary process, especially for teens.

Individual therapy should go hand in hand with counseling sessions for the family and peer support groups. A study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology followed 114 adolescents who received individual therapy, group therapy and family therapy for substance abuse. Teenagers who received all three interventions had fewer days of drug use at the four-month mark and the seven-month mark after treatment.

Peer group therapy gives isolated, substance-abusing teenagers a sense of belonging. Group members have a supportive, accepting audience for their deepest fears about addiction and recovery. They also have the opportunity to reinforce their self-esteem by helping others succeed in recovery. Group therapy can take the traditional forms of classroom discussions and process sessions, or it may take the form of experiential therapies, such as adventure outings.

As part of the rehab process, the family must be engaged in the teenager’s recovery. Family counseling sessions help repair broken relationships, reestablish trust and establish limits of conduct. Led by family therapists, psychiatrists or counselors, these sessions promote healing for the whole household, not just for the addicted teen.

An individual therapist is a teenager’s guide to total healing. The professionals at Muir Wood are dedicated to helping teenage boys grow into self-respecting, accountable adults by overcoming the pitfalls of addiction. Individual therapy, group therapy, family counseling and experiential therapies are core components of our gender-specific residential rehab program. If you’re ready to make a commitment to your teenager’s recovery, our treatment team is ready to give you the support and information you need to take the first step.