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Does My Teen Need More Intensive Treatment?

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >

One of the most difficult things about parenting a teenager is watching them struggle with things you can’t control – especially when they have a mental health disorder. You may feel helpless, sad, anxious, or angry about what they go through on a daily basis. It doesn’t seem fair that young people should have to fight an uphill battle simply to be at ease in their own skin and enjoy a happy, worry-free life. They should be focused on teenage things: friends, school, hobbies, pop-music, or sports – anything but learning to manage emotional dysregulation such as anxiety, depression, or eating disorders.

You do everything you can to support them. You may have been working with teachers, therapists, tutors, and school administrators for years. For many families, some combination of specialized activities, weekly therapy, classroom accommodations, and medication works wonders. Teens can learn what’s happening in their brains, practice and apply productive coping mechanisms, and successfully manage their psychological and emotional challenges.

However, some teenagers have mental health disorders that require more than this standard array of interventions. Some may require Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP), a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), or even time in a Residential Treatment program in order to make progress with the issues they face.

Here are some general guidelines to use if you’re considering an increased level of treatment for your teenager:

  1. The Basics: You need to make sure all the fundamental criteria for deciding if your child needs professional help need have been met. In general, if symptoms of a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety almost every day for longer than two weeks, then you need to seek the support of a therapist or psychiatrist. We’re assuming you’re past this stage already, but it’s important to take things one step at a time, and this is the first step. Throwing a teenager in residential therapy as a first step can be as big a mistake as ignoring warning signs.
  2. Honest Assessment: If you’ve got a treatment plan for your teenager, but they’re not showing any signs of improvement, then you need to consider making changes. If your teen is seeing a therapist once a week, you can change that to twice a week. If they’re seeing a therapist twice a week, you can consider an afternoon, afterschool outpatient program. This holds true up the continuum of care: if the current level of treatment is not working, then consider the next level up.
  3. Co-Occurring Disorders: If your teen receives treatment for anxiety, depression, or another mental health disorder, then you discover they’ve started drinking, smoking marijuana, or doing other drugs, then it’s appropriate to consider a more advanced level of care. An addiction problem and a mental health disorder together are known as co-occurring disorders, and people with co-occurring disorders receive what’s called a dual-diagnosis. Left untreated, co-occurring disorders can exacerbate one another by forming a destructive, self-reinforcing feedback loop that can be very difficult to untangle.

The bottom line is that if what your current approach is not working, then you need to change the approach. Have a serious conversation with your teenager and anyone involved in the situation –teachers, counselors, therapists, or coaches – and get their input. The earlier your teenager gets the level of help they need, the better chance they have of making a complete recovery, and developing lifelong tools for total health and wellness.

Evolve Treatment Centers, accredited by CARF and The Joint Commission, offer the highest caliber of care for teens, 12 to 17 years old, struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues. To learn more about our full continuum of Outpatient (OP), Intensive Outpatient (IOP), Partial Hospitalization (PHP), and Residential Treatment Programs (RTC), visit https://www.evolvetreatment.com or call  1-800-665-4769

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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