3 Reasons Troubled Teens Resist Treatment (And What You Can Do About It)

Though issues in troubled teens today are very real and treatable, many refuse to engage, to participate, or even communicate with counselors. Here are some reasons why they may be unwilling to become involved in treatment:

Misconceptions About Therapy

Sometimes our teens and young adults resist the opportunity to open up and fully dive into treatment out of negative stigma or apathy. Unfortunately, the true cause of disengagement from treatment often lies in the treatment or methods being used.

Teens don’t want to tell a therapist how something makes them feel; they want a trusting relationship, and the ability to open up on their own time. Some counselors struggle to find a balance between empathy and accountability. If teens are getting the proper treatment, they will open up because they feel safe and secure.

Feeling Unworthy or Embarrassed

Troubled teens need help navigating tumultuous transitions. They are dealing with their emerging sense of self. This makes for a personal nature that is protective of independence and intellect. Their sense of dignity is vulnerable. Patronizing speech and condescension (intended or otherwise) leads to detachment from addressing the issue at hand. The time has come to to start listening to what teens are saying on an earnest level, and sometimes more importantly, what they aren’t saying.

Recovery begins by building a rapport with a struggling teen. That rapport is built through mutual growth, not intellectual or emotional assertion. This may seem self-explanatory to some readers, but most people do this without knowing it’s happening. Janet Sasson Edgette, Psy.D says, “Because teenage clients are legally underage, we tend to treat them as if they weren’t fully capable of making their own decisions. But no matter what we want for them or can see in them, the choice of whether to accept our help is always theirs.” Fostering an affiliative environment moves treatment forward in leaps and bounds.

Defiance and Social Stigma

There are mental health disorders such as ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) that make teens naturally more irritable and argumentative. These areas call attention to the need for professional treatment. Authenticity goes a long way for troubled teens. Knowing how to communicate in a way that will come across plainly validates a teen’s willingness to be forthright. Unfortunately, this is a reason many therapies today fail. The inability of a counselor to pinpoint poor habitual behavior and, so to say, speak the same language is often a hallmark of a defiant teen personality.

Many teens do not want their peers to know they are going through therapy. The sheer admission of the necessity for counseling or spending time at wilderness camps for troubled teens is a troublesome feat to accomplish. Toss in the possibility that their classmates and friends might catch wind of their participation, and the idea of treatment becomes doubly daunting.

What’s the Solution?

Counselors must stop focusing on immediate end results in short-term bursts, and begin focusing on small interpersonal interactions taking place, letting change take place naturally over time. To create a sustainable lifestyle, troubled teens must be taught the mechanisms to deal with sporadically occurring negative episodes on their own. All of the quandaries mentioned throughout this post have been addressed and solved by the program instituted at Pacific Quest.

Our clinicians and program guides are trained in a neurodevelopmental approach that stimulates the human capacity to self-regulate and problem solve. Through Horticultural Therapy, students grow internally in parallel with the growth they foster in the garden. Pacific Quest’s clinical model is a unique approach among wilderness camps for troubled teens—combining therapeutic techniques in a sustainable and scientific way. Students not only address the issues they may be facing during difficult transitions, they are also given the tools they need to grow through any future adversity.

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