Getting Kids into Treatment: the Role of the Child and Adolescent Interventionist

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Seeing a young person struggling with their mental health can be heartbreaking. Young people with mental health concerns need effective, professional support: but sometimes they can be reluctant to seek help.

Interventions are important events that help young people understand that they need treatment and encourage them to receive professional help.

Interventions are often staged by parents, family members, and others who are close to a young person. They may involve an open conversation, statements of support and care, and setting of boundaries.

Child and adolescent interventionists help to support the intervention process, ensuring it goes as smoothly as possible. Interventionists are specialists with expertise and experience in young people’s mental health.

They help parents and other people involved in the intervention to rehearse the content of the conversation, understand how to react to the young person’s response, and manage their emotions throughout the process. 

When Is An Intervention Necessary?

Interventions are necessary when a young person doesn’t agree that they need mental health treatment. There are lots of reasons why a teenager or adolescent may be reluctant to seek help. They may:

  • Think that they don’t need therapy and understand their experience as “just the way they are”
  • Think that medicine, therapy, or other treatments don’t work
  • Have tried mental health treatment before that hasn’t been effective
  • Feel embarrassed about asking for help
  • Feel defensive about their experience, particularly if others have previously responded to aspects of their mental health in an unhelpful way
  • Feel hopeless or find it impossible to imagine that they’ll ever feel better

Each young person is different and their reluctance may be rooted in several of these reasons or come from something else. Either way, it’s important to understand the causes of a young person’s resistance to try and change their mind.

How Can a Child and Adolescent Interventionist Help?

For parents, persuading a young person to do something they don’t want to do can be really hard. Young people are often seeking independence and control over their own lives, especially during their teenage years. 

Equally, parents don’t always have the knowledge or experience to know the best way to approach their child. Their own emotions can prevent them from having productive interactions with a young person, leading to frustrated conflicts even though they come from a place of care.

Child and adolescent interventionists are trained and licensed mental health professionals with an expert understanding of young people’s mental health. They help parents to plan and carry out an intervention and support the transition to a treatment program.

Interventionists are trusted figures who take the burden of stress and responsibility away from parents, guiding families through difficult decisions with their knowledge and experience.

Child and adolescent interventionists can:

  • Understand how the dynamics between a young person and family members or others close to them
  • Teach family members communication and relationship-building skills
  • Make recommendations for treatment 
  • Support with admission to treatment program

What Does an Intervention Involve?

Interventions can look very different from one family to another. Each young person has their own needs, personality, and relationship to their loved ones.

A big part of the role of an interventionist is to assess the situation and determine what form of intervention is most likely to persuade a young person to get the help they need.

Interventions can involve a single event or multiple interactions. They may involve an open conversation, a meeting of several people, or one-on-one chats. Sometimes, letters and other types of expression can be valuable tools in the intervention process.

Stages of an Intervention

Interventions involve three main stages: planning, the actual intervention, and transition to treatment. Interventionists guide families through each of these stages with care and expertise.

They may:

  • Assess the situation, handle any safety issues, and work with parents to make a timeline for the intervention.
  • Collect as much information as possible about a young person’s experience and their relationship with others. They might involve speaking to family members, teachers, friends, and health professionals and looking into the medical records of a young person and their family.
  • Meet with parents and other close figures to design the form of the intervention and rehearse the actual event, considering different scenarios and responses from a young person and practising how to react to each.
  • Help families to set healthy boundaries that encourage a young person to seek treatment and support the recovery process.

Managing Conflict and Emotions

Sometimes, parents’ worry for a young person can cause them to become frustrated or even angry. It can be incredibly difficult to see a child or teenager in distress, especially if they are reluctant to seek help. Parents may also experience feelings of helplessness or despair that can cause them to lash out.

At other times, feelings of worry, concern, and care can cause parents to feel overwhelmed and withdraw from a situation. They may feel like they are unable to face the reality of their child’s experience and stop addressing what’s going on.

While both of these reactions are understandable, they often lead to a breakdown of honest communication between a young person and their parents. They can prevent parents from understanding their child’s needs and expressing their care and love for the young person.

Ultimately, such emotional reactions can make it more difficult for a young person to trust others that they require professional help, or to believe that people are really there to support them.

One of the most important roles of a child and adolescent interventionist is to work with parents and other close figures to manage their emotions and respond to their child in a productive and helpful way.

They can also help to de-escalate conflict during the actual intervention and provide space for everyone involved to listen and be heard.

Transitioning to Treatment and Recovery

When a young person agrees to enter a treatment program, the next step is to begin the admissions process. Child and adolescent interventionists may guide young people and their families through the transition to treatment, helping them to make the necessary preparations, navigate admissions procedures, and arrange transport.

In some cases, interventionists may work with a specific treatment centre, collaborating with other team members to make the start of treatment as smooth as possible.

Some young people may require medical accompaniment to treatment for their own safety. This may happen when they have low body weight, medical needs, or are at risk of harming themselves.

The treatment centre can assess the support a young person needs to stay safe and well until they arrive at their doors and provide the necessary care.

The Wave Clinic: Specialist Recovery Programs for Young People

The Wave Clinic offers transformative recovery programs for teenagers and adolescents, making a difference in the lives of young people. Our whole-person approach focuses on building life advantage, supporting young people to overcome to obstacles they face and create fulfilling futures.

We combine top-tier clinical care with education, social responsibility, and a gap year experience, working with young people to develop life skills that underlie a strong and stable recovery.

We understand that sending your child to mental health treatment can feel scary. We strive to make the process as easy as possible, supporting transport arrangements and offering medical accompaniment where necessary.

We stay in close communication with family members at all times and deeply involve you in the treatment process.

If you would like to find out more about our programs, get in touch today. We’re here to help.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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