One-on-one individual therapy 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.