Tailoring Treatment for Teens

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
November/December 2000 Volume 11, Number 6
©2000 Gürze Books

Adolescent patients will have a much more successful course if therapists tailor treatment more closely to their age, according to Michael E. Berrett, PHD, and Randy K. Hardman, PhD, from the Center for Change, Orem, UT.

Drs. Hardman and Berrett told clinicians at the recent Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention (EDAP) Training Conference in Scottsdale, AZ, that adolescents have different needs than young adults. In particular, adolescents seem to need more structure, more encouragement and praise, more planning, and more family involvement than older patients.

Some special needs of teens

According to Drs. Hardman and Berrett, adolescents need:

  • A sense of acceptance and belonging in a circle of peers.
  • A sense of being important and valued in the family.
  • A sense of spirituality, purpose, and meaning in life, which gives them hope.
  • A growing sense of self and identify through identification, individuation, and “noticed self experience.”
  • A growing set of principles in which one’s life is anchored.

Drs. Berrett and Hardman stress that teens should be encouraged to explore the differences between acceptance and approval and love versus approval/disapproval. Since many patients literally “shut down” and feel numb, these clinicians encourage therapists to use honesty and empathy, along with group, individual, and family therapy interventions, to help young patients increase their skills in self-awareness and verbal expression.

General guidelines offered

The two clinicians offered 6 additional suggestions for treating adolescents:

  1. Involve the family in treatment from the beginning.
  2. Build in more activity and less talk.
  3. Be specific and direct.
  4. Provide a clear structure for therapy.
  5. Reward patients with immediate encouragement and reinforcement, stressing hope and a vision of the future.
  6. Set small short-term goals.
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