Providing addiction treatment for young people has a unique set of challenges. Denial and precontemplation plague this age group. Common rebuttals include, “everyone my age is doing it” and “I can stop whenever I want -- I just don’t want to.” From an outsider’s perspective looking in, it may seem obvious that the person needs serious help. How can they not see it? Well – it’s simple science, really. The brain of a young person in their late teens / early 20s is still developing. The pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for thought analysis and regulating behavior, is the last section to mature. Young people simply lack the necessary insight into their own thoughts and behavior. As counselors, our job is to help the young addict see the cause & effect relationship between his actions and the consequences without provoking oppositional defiance. So, how is this possible? Two words -- Motivational Interviewing. Motivational Interviewing is a counseling approach that is uniquely effective in addressing and resolving ambivalence toward change. Below are 4 core principles of Motivational Interviewing (MI) that have shown to be effective in working with young addicts in denial.
- Roll With Resistance. When working with a young person who is not yet willing to acknowledge the existence of a problem, it is important to divert oppositional energy. Direct confrontations can result in a breakdown of future communication.
- Express Empathy. Try making a deliberate attempt to see the world through the young person’s eyes. Young people can intuitively sense empathy and it goes a long way in earning trust, making them more susceptible to small challenges by the counselor.
- Support Self-Efficacy. Be sure to highlight the young person’s strengths. In order for the addict to effect change, he needs to believe he has it in him!
- Develop Discrepancy. Keep him talking about values and goals! The client will inevitably see how his current pattern of behavior will hinder forward movement in his life. He may not verbally acknowledge it right away, but when he does, you’ve just witnessed your client’s first self-imposed argument for change!