Finding the right care level for your teen

Will Wooton, Director of Pacific Treatment Services, writes for Pomerado News and is the and co-author of “Bring Your Teen Back From The Brink.” PTS is a substance abuse company working with teens and young adults.

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Finding the right care level for your teen
By Will Wooton

Finding the appropriate level of care for the volume of teens that Pacific Treatment Services sees each year is the key to success. Every assessment has unique factors as each family is different; however, some factors are always consistent, steadfast, and never changing. It often baffles me that so many miss the mark identifying what the issues are with teens.

The first step is to understand teens — what behaviors they are doing, what they are involved in, family dynamics, etc. — and what steps need to be taken. Once that is identified, emotional and personality factors come into play. Teenagers seeking help (even if it’s through parental pressures) generally fall into three categories: highly motivated, apathetic to help as they see no reason, or defiant or unwilling. (I’ve discussed levels of care in previous articles but to summarize there are: individual therapy sessions, outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment, and longterm residential care.)

Looking at what level is best for a teenager is often the first misstep of the treatment process. In my opinion, most teenagers — especially ones dealing with negative behaviors such as drugs or sexually acting out — are in need of group process first, yet so many of these kids are in individual therapy. (In more resistant cases, other options are often necessary.) Let’s be honest, there are thousands of therapists in San Diego, yet there are less than 50 groups for teens to attend. How does this make sense?

Why is the group process a better initial fit for teens? Unless a person is motivated to change they won’t go through an individual 50minute weekly session. Sadly, many therapists rebook sessions and give false hope of change happening. A good therapist will recommend using their services in conjunction with group therapy. There has to be a challenging force that confronts negative behaviors and directly addresses them. It is very easy for a teen to sit and deal with a person gently telling them something, but
it’s much harder to do that when a group is hitting them from all directions. If you have a teenager who is
dishonest to you, teachers and everyone else around them, then they are just as manipulative towards their therapist. Just because they are professionals, don’t think they can’t be snowed because often all they can go by is what they see and are told. Groups are longer in duration and the mask that a kid wears is worn down, given the behaviors are easier to see when in stressful situations.

I would highly recommend that if you have a teen in therapy or if you are looking into options for help, to work with a therapist who understands and believes in group activity as well. If your teen is abusing drugs, being defiant or throwing away high school, find a local group that you can attend as a starting point. From there you can see what therapeutic model is right for you and your family.

Wooton is director of Pacific Treatment Services and co-author of “Bring Your Teen Back From The Brink.”