Treatment for Troubled Teens

As is also the case for adults, determining the best course of treatment for adolescents and teenagers is a complex matter that must take a number of factors into account.

The primary concern when selecting effective treatment for adolescents or teenagers is making a full and accurate diagnosis of the diseases and/or disorders that the young person is struggling with. For example, a teenager who has developed an addiction to drugs will require different treatment than a teen who has been engaging in substance abuse in a misguided attempt to self-medicate the symptoms of depression.

The following factors must also be taken into account when selecting the best treatment program for an adolescent or teenager:

  • Age and gender of the patient
  • Medical, academic and behavioral history
  • Presence of multiple (co-occurring) disorders
  • Length of time teen has been dealing with the disease or disorder
  • Severity of the disease/disorder

Once these and other factors have been evaluated, the range of treatment options for teens and adolescents may include many or all of the following:

  • Outpatient therapy
  • Partial hospitalization
  • Residential substance abuse/addiction program
  • Therapeutic wilderness program
  • Therapeutic boarding school

For “minor” cases of depression or anger management issues, for example, outpatient counseling for teens may be an effective option. But for more severe issues such as addiction, severe depression, eating disorders, oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD) and other challenges that have proved resistant to less intensive forms of treatment, longer-term residential programs may provide the best chance for recovery.

Wilderness therapy programs provide a high-intensity therapeutic experience that usually lasts from 28 days through four months. Removed from their “normal” surroundings and placed into a challenging yet supportive environment, struggling young people are given the time, space and guidance they need to focus on the issues that have been obstructing their healthy development.

For adolescents who require a more extended therapeutic experience, residential addiction treatment programs and therapeutic boarding schools offer a multitude of treatment options. Some programs focus primarily on the addiction or behavior disorder (along with any co-occurring conditions) while others also include a significant academic component.

Length of stay at a residential drug and alcohol recovery program for teens may last from a few weeks to many months, while enrollment in a therapeutic boarding school often requires a commitment of a year or longer.

Though the specific types of physical and mental health support services will vary depending upon the program and the needs of the teen, all effective treatment programs for adolescents and teenagers should include the following components:

  • Individualized assessments to identify the range of issues that the teen is dealing with
  • Personalized treatment plans featuring a variety of techniques
  • Ongoing assessment of the teen’s progress
  • Strong family component
  • Transition support and aftercare planning