Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Troubled Teens

When looking for troubled teen therapy and programs, one usually encounters the term “cognitive behavior therapy”. What is it and how can we harness it to deal with behavioral issues that our teens may have?

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

This is a treatment or psychotherapy modality that aims to develop self-awareness and critical thinking so that it positively affects one’s actions. Part of the self-awareness is recognizing that it is not external factors such as people, happenings and circumstances that cause one’s emotions and behaviors. Rather, it is one’s thoughts. The change should be effected from the inside so that no matter what happens externally, one can choose how to behave. As one is able to identify thoughts, emotions and behavior that contribute to issues such as depression, eating disorders, substance abuse and conduct disorders, he can break the vicious cycle and replace negative thoughts and emotions with positive ones.

When Teens Behave Badly

A child or a teen can be vulnerable to factors that lead to him behave badly. This can include:

– Stressors. A teen is faced with a lot of pressure and stress. He needs to meet with academic and athletic standards, deal with peer pressure or come to terms with aspirations to meet a certain physical appearance. He can be a victim of bullying. She can have self-esteem issues rooted in a negative body image.

– Unrealistic goals. A teen may have high aspirations that he develops based on the prevailing culture, what he hears from his parents and peers and what he sees in the media. When he fails to meet these standards, he gets frustrated. He tries to compensate with behaving badly and when he finds that he is good at that, he begins the cycle of negative emotions, thoughts and behaviors.

– Physiological issues. There may be physical reasons for a teen’s behavior. A child may be suffering from hormonal imbalance or emotional or mental issues such as depression, phobias, bipolar disorder or anxiety.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy Components

Assessment and psychoeducation. The first few sessions will be devoted to evaluating the teen’s condition, family history (including history of psychological issues), relationships and history of treatments. The therapist will also examine factors that contribute to the patient’s problems – past and recurring stresses and anxieties. After the assessment, the therapist will then outline the plan for treatment, what the teen can expect and what is expected from him.

Thought awareness. The teen learns to be aware of his negative thoughts, challenge these and change them. Aside from talking to the therapist, he can also start a journal. The journal can be useful in identifying negative thoughts, list down action plans and write statements to fight the negative thoughts in one’s head. Another strategy would be search for opportunities to have positive thoughts and visualize what you can do.

Behavioral strategies. The therapy will also include equipping the patient with practical behavioral techniques to deal with stress and to make key decisions. This can include training on assertiveness, time management, conflict resolution, goal-setting and social skills.

Relaxation and distraction techniques. One way to counteract the negative effects of stress is to perform exercises that can relax and distract the individual. Relaxation techniques can include meditation and breathing exercises. Teen summer camps and wilderness programs also offer physical activities, which focuses the individual’s attention to accomplishing the challenging activities. Troubled teen residential programs may also make use of animal therapy to relax and distract.

Relapse prevention. The therapist can also schedule meetings to review progress, add useful skills and discuss coping strategies to prevent relapse.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy’s Benefits

The process towards wellness and dealing with the teen’s problems will not be a short-term affair. However, with the help of cognitive behavior therapy, the teen can emerge out of his “darkness” and learn how to deal with fears, communicate feelings, grow in his confidence and self-esteem and face his monsters in a positive and effective way.

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