Which Types of Therapies Are Effective for Teens?

Arastou Aminzadeh, Adolescent Psychiatrist on Mar 08, 2023 in Mood and Feelings

By Dr. Aristou Aminzadeh, Founder, BNI Treatment Centers

Teens who are experiencing a mental health and/or substance use challenges are in need of developmentally appropriate therapeutic interventions. During the intake process, each teen’s specific treatment needs will be determined following a thorough psychological evaluation.

To provide the most effective psychiatric treatment for the adolescent, a doctor selects the therapy or combination of therapies that would best address the teen’s particular diagnosis. Therapy encompasses a range of interventions, including evidence-based psychotherapies, experiential therapies, and holistic activities.

Teen Mental Health Today

Before jumping into a discussion about the different types of therapies for teens, let’s explore the state of teen mental health today. It is important to grasp the current mental health challenges that today’s adolescents are grappling with:

  • Based on the data collected and reported at Mental Health America, depression among adolescents has increased by 1.24% in the last year, with over 15% of all teens having at least one major depressive episode during the year.
  • The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reports that youth drug use among 8th graders increased by 61% between 2016-2020.
  • The National Institute on Mental Health reports that 31% of teens have an anxiety disorder.
  • The CDC reports that there was an 8% increase in suicide among young males ages 15-24 in 2021.

It is clear from the data that teens today are experiencing a high prevalence of mental health difficulties.

Types of Therapies for Teens

There is a multitude of psychotherapies available for assisting teens in their quest to feel better about themselves, manage symptoms, and achieve their personal potential. Some of the most popular interventions include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: CBT is a type of therapy that is effective for several types of mental health challenges as well as substance use disorders. CBT challenges the teen to change maladaptive thought patterns that have fueled negative actions or self-destructive behaviors. The therapist guides the teen toward replacing these dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns with healthy ones.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: ACT leads a teen toward two main goals: to accept their emotional state as valid, even if it is negative, and to commit to solving their problems. ACT uses six processes to guide teens to achieve these goals: acceptance, cognitive defusion, being present, self as context, values, and committed action.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy: Another behavior-focused therapy is DBT, which helps teens better manage their emotions and change unhealthy thought patterns. DBT uses four skills to achieve these goals: emotional regulation, improved interpersonal skills, better tolerance of distress, and acceptance of emotions without judgment.
  • Mindfulness Therapy: Combining the meditative practice of mindfulness with CBT can have very effective therapeutic effects. Mindfulness teaches teens how to better control their thoughts by training themselves to focus on the present moment. This allows the teen to recognize thought distortions that are keeping them anxious or depressed so they can actively change them.
  • Interpersonal Process Therapy: Interpersonal process therapy focuses on teaching problem-solving skills with the goal of improving interpersonal relationships. These skills are taught in five steps and are practiced within the group therapy setting.
  • Solutions-Focused Therapy: Solutions-focused therapy helps teens identify solutions they can apply to fix a present problem. The teen feels empowered by reviewing their options and setting their own goals for achieving a solution to the problem. The therapist guides them in identifying their strengths as well as helping them overcome any perceived obstacles.
  • Family Therapy: Family therapy focuses on improving the overall family dynamic, resulting in a home environment that is a healthy source of support for the teen. Family therapy sessions allow the teen and their family members to open up and discuss their feelings and struggles. They participate in various exercises that elicit honest discussion as the therapist guides the family towards better relating and communication skills.
  • Experiential Therapies: Teens may benefit from doing rather than talking, which is how experiential therapy works. Instead of engaging in therapy in an office setting, experiential therapy takes place while the teen is engaged in an activity. Physical activities like hiking, water sports, or martial arts or activities involving art, music, or psychodrama can improve self-esteem and boost confidence.
  • Holistic Therapies: Holistic therapies engage all aspects of the person, connecting the mind, body, and spiritual realms. Holistic activities help to calm the teen, which allows them to relax and benefit from gaining new insights. These activities include yoga, meditation, guided imagery, mindfulness, and journaling.

Treatment Options for Teens

A mental health provider can determine the level of care that is most appropriate for your teen’s mental health needs. There are three levels of outpatient treatment, including basic outpatient therapy, intensive outpatient programs, and partial hospitalization programs. Residential treatment programs for teens offer the highest level of care and round-the-clock supervision and support.

Treatment programs should be individualized to suit a teen’s specific needs, as no two teens or their problems are alike. When a treatment plan is created, the type or types of psychotherapy recommended by the clinical team are outlined, as well as any medication recommendations.

For a teenager who is struggling with substance abuse, a medical detox is likely to be required prior to the teen entering treatment. During the detox, the teen’s withdrawal symptoms will be closely observed and medical interventions provided to help reduce discomfort.

Teens who are suffering from a mental health crisis, such as a psychotic event or suicide attempt, may require acute stabilization services. Throughout the stabilization process, the teen will be closely monitored.

With teen depression, anxiety, and suicide rates climbing, it is critical that a teen in distress be evaluated and guided toward the appropriate treatment. If a young person is showing signs of mental distress, it is essential that they receive the care they need and deserve.

About the Author

Dr. Arastou Aminzadeh is a triple board-certified physician in psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, and addiction medicine and is the co-founder of BNI Treatment Centers in Agoura Hills, California. Dr. Aminzadeh is a fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and also a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. A well-respected leader in the field, he also holds an adjunct faculty position at the University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine, where he completed his residency and fellowship.

Arastou Aminzadeh is a Addictions Counselor in Agoura Hills, CA.

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