Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Adolescents

During CBT sessions, patients are guided toward a better understanding of the complex relationships that exist between thoughts, feelings and actions.

By better understanding the negative thoughts that lead to negative feelings and eventually to negative behaviors, patients can learn how to modify their perspectives in order to alter their approach to stressors in life and ultimately make their own lives easier by modifying their behavior accordingly.

A teen’s perspective of the world often contributes heavily to his actions and reactions as well as his day-to-day experience of others and himself. Learning how to recognize how his perspective shapes his experience in the world and how shifting those perspectives can completely alter his life can be an amazingly powerful and life-changing experience.

Learn more about how cognitive behavioral therapy can benefit your teen in recovery when you contact us at Muir Wood today.

Who Can Benefit From Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Many adolescents who suffer from mental health disorders, addictions, and other issues can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy when it is a part of a comprehensive and intensive rehabilitation plan. Over the years, research has demonstrated the efficacy of CBT time and again, and it is commonly known to be effective in the treatment of:

  • Phobias
  • Drug addiction
  • Alcoholism
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Eating disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

It is important to understand that cognitive behavioral therapy is not a specific type of therapy but rather a classification that encompasses a wide range of therapeutic interventions. Some of the therapeutic approaches that are included in this category include:

  • Rational emotive behavior therapy
  • Rational behavior therapy
  • Rational living therapy
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Dialectic behavior therapy
  • Multimodal therapy

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Rational emotive behavior therapy was created in the 1950s by a psychologist named Alert Ellis; the therapy type was based, however, on the teachings of famous ancient and modern philosophers. While rational emotive behavior therapy is complex in nature, its main goal is to help people rid themselves of negative beliefs that lead to negative actions and to replace those negative beliefs with positive ones that will, in turn, lead to positive actions and a happier life in general.

Rational Behavior Therapy

Rational behavior therapy is similar to the other types of CBT except that its main focus is on finding the underlying and unknown problems that are potentially responsible for the negative and undesirable mental, emotional or physical problems. Proponents of this therapy believe that by discovering and targeting the underlying cause of a person’s problems, those problems can be solved, and the resulting negative feelings and interactions with others will no longer be an issue or as overwhelming to the patient.

Rational Living Therapy

Rational living therapy combines both traditional therapy and self-counseling. In this type of therapy, the therapist, referred to as a rational living therapist, attempts to “sell” the client on the techniques and strategies involved in rational living therapy.

Rational living therapists are persuasive and encouraging toward their clients and give them clear directions to follow as they address underlying assumptions in order to produce long-term results. They also try to avoid labeling patients with formal diagnoses when possible because they believe that diagnoses can limit the patients they represent and cause them to feel hopeless.

Rational Hypnotherapy

Some – not all – therapists who practice rational living therapy incorporate hypnotherapy into their sessions. Why? Some possible benefits may include:

  • May aid in the more rapid integration of positive beliefs and improved perspectives
  • May improve the ability of the patient to fully embrace new ideas on a conscious level
  • May improve the overall efficacy of treatment through the additional repetition of this added layer of therapeutic intervention

Hypnotherapy is not necessary for patients to benefit from this type of therapy, thus therapists have the option to be trained in the technique or not.

Cognitive Therapy

As is the case with rational living therapy, cognitive therapy involves a therapist and a client working closely together to accomplish predetermined therapeutic goals. The main goal of these sessions is to identify existing problems in the patient’s life and to disempower those problems by helping the patient to gain control over his thoughts, behaviors and emotional responses.

Cognitive therapists first focus on educating the patient about his thoughts, emotions and actions, and how each influences the other, before moving on to the development and practice of skills that can help to augment and enhance day-to-day experience.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical behavioral therapy typically utilizes a variety of therapeutic methods including individual therapy sessions, group training and therapy sessions, and long-distance consultations when applicable. Another feature that sets dialectical behavioral therapy apart from other forms of cognitive behavioral therapy is its great focus on validation and self-acceptance; the therapist helps the patient to accept his negative thoughts, feelings and actions. The idea is that by accepting problems in his life as the status quo, the patient will have a much greater chance of successfully conquering them and/or moving forward.

Many therapeutic programs that utilize dialectical behavioral therapy also focus on self-awareness and mindfulness through relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation.


5 Components of DBT

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices breaks down dialectical behavior therapy into five components:

  • Improving capabilities of the patient through skills training
  • Motivating the patient through the creation of a personalized treatment plan
  • Generalizing the experience of the patient in therapy to other aspects of life
  • Reinforcing adaptive behaviors
  • Implementing the aid of a therapeutic team and consultation group

Multimodal Therapy

Multimodal therapy focuses on seven key areas or components of the personality and has been proven extremely effective in the treatment of children diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), though it can be applied in a number of different situations.

The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that the major foci of multimodal therapy are summed up by the acronym BASIC ID:

  • Behavior: Problem behaviors
  • Affect: Unpleasant emotions
  • Sensation: Perceived psychosomatic problems
  • Imagery: Negative self-image
  • Cognition: Irrational thoughts
  • Interpersonal factors: Stressful relationships
  • Drug/biological considerations: Biological disorders

Proponents of the therapy believe it is imperative to seek out and treat problems that occur in each of these areas, giving the patient the tools to identify these issues and manage them as they arise.

Characteristics of Cognitive Behavior Therapies

Though each type of cognitive behavior therapy is different and the specifics of therapeutic sessions will vary depending upon the specific type of therapy being practiced and the needs of the patient, all types of CBT share a few common features. It is these characteristics that define them as cognitive behavioral therapies, according to the National Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists (NACBT). They are:

  • Based on the Cognitive Model of Emotional Response (e.g., the belief that thoughts, not outside events or circumstances, are what lead to feelings and behaviors)
  • A temporary intervention with a time limit placed on treatment from the start
  • Based on an underlying belief in a strong but not central therapist/client relationship
  • Based on an underlying belief that both the client and the therapist must work together toward problem-solving
  • Based on stoic philosophy
  • Focused on the utilization of the Socratic method (e.g., understanding clients’ concerns through the asking of questions and encouraging clients to ask “tough questions” of themselves as well)
  • Focused on the utilization of heavily structured therapeutic sessions
  • Functional through the provision of clear directions to the patient
  • Based on an underlying belief that emotional and behavioral reactions are learned and can thus be unlearned
  • Based on an emphasis on rational thinking and perception of reality based on fact rather than emotion
  • Inclusive of “homework” given to the patient, or outside work that is to be completed by the patient in between sessions

Adolescents and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy has long been shown to be particularly effective for use in treating adolescents and teens.

This may be due in part to the fact that the emotions that rule most teens’ decision-making processes and reactions have not been long in use, thus they are easier to mold and shape more positively in the therapeutic setting.

When data-driven, specific, and modified to take into consideration the specific needs of the patient and their developmental level, CBT can be hugely effective in the treatment of a number of diagnoses common in the teen population, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • ADHD
  • Substance abuse

However, it is important to remember that when major disorders like those listed are in evidence, a single weekly therapy session is not enough to combat the issue effectively. Rather, an integrated rehabilitation program that utilizes a wide range of traditional and holistic treatments will best serve to aid the patient in overcoming problem issues and moving forward.

The Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

When included as a part of a comprehensive, teen-specific rehabilitation program, there are many benefits to be had for teens who undergo cognitive behavioral therapy. Some of these benefits include:

  • Improved communication skills
  • Changes in negative thought patterns and resulting behaviors
  • Improved ability to handle fears and anxieties
  • Lessening of addictive behaviors
  • Lessening of self-destructive behaviors
  • Increased self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Enhanced sense of self
  • Improved peer relationships

In general, teens who complete a course of cognitive behavioral therapy can learn positive and appropriate approaches and techniques for dealing with stress that serve to mitigate inappropriate responses to stimuli.

Good Candidates for Cognitive Behavior Therapy

While almost any adolescent can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, certain characteristics and abilities tend to make some people better candidates for a successful series of CBT sessions than others, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Some of the features that can make a person more suited to CBT and more likely to be successful in their recovery include the following:

  • An ability to recognize, think about, and discuss the inner workings of the mind and thought processes
  • The ability to set specific goals for therapy
  • A willingness to work toward recovery
  • A desire to get better
  • The ability to cope with increased emotional pain
  • The ability to take ownership of certain problems in one’s life
  • The ability to learn and put into practice new information
  • A stable, supportive home and family environment

Though many teens who begin rehabilitation do not initially exhibit these qualities, many develop them during their time spent in a comprehensive program, making CBT extremely effective when used in addition to other evidence-based therapies and therapeutic interventions.

Choosing a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

It is important to be informed about the different types of cognitive behavioral therapy, but parents are not tasked with determining which type will be most effective for their child. Choosing whether or not CBT will be an effective part of your teen’s treatment plan, and if so which type, comes after your child undergoes a thorough initial evaluation. The therapeutic team will determine which styles of therapeutic intervention to utilize as they build a personalized treatment plan for your teen.

Finding Treatment for Your Teen

There are a number of characteristics that should define your teen’s experience in rehabilitation. They include:

  • A personalized treatment plan based on the individual needs of your child
  • Directed therapeutic interventions chosen based on the impact they will have on your child’s ability to manage all obstacles they face in recovery
  • Inclusion of the parents and family in the recovery process
  • Teen-specific treatment

Learn more about how we can help your teen heal when you contact us here at Muir Wood today. Reach out to our call center or download an admissions packet now.