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Be mindful of millennial treatment expectations

October 21, 2015
by Julia Brown, Associate Editor
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As the behavioral healthcare landscape continues to evolve, treatment centers must be mindful of the millennial generation and anticipate what they might expect out of treatment. Millennials are considered to be those born in the late 1980s through the early 2000s.

“We have enough experience with cohort cultural competency to know that each passing generation is probably going to have very different treatment expectations,” Bradley F. Sorte, MSW, MBA, executive director, Caron Renaissance and Caron Ocean Drive, says. “The difference between older adults and baby boomers is striking, for example.”

As the first generation to grow up with computers, millennials want technological add-ons that can provide useful tools to support them in their recovery.

“If we’re looking at the ability to interact, speak and communicate with patients, we need to understand that millennials have spent a lot of time communicating via Google Hangouts, FaceTime and Skype, so telemedicine is very appealing,” he says. “Having a HIPAA-approved modality to  reach people without them having to be physically present is something that can be very valuable.”

Additionally, utilizing tablets and mobile devices during treatment as well as providing apps or patient portals that encourage interaction during and after treatment are also viable solutions.   

“We’ve been working to develop a mobile and web-based app that connects the patient to the therapeutic milieu: their important papers, treatment assignments, and access to social support that can be customized to that patient’s particular experience,” Sorte says. “It also would provide access to video lectures and exercises.”

In an age where research is as simple as Googling a topic, he adds that it only makes sense to extend that type of accessibility to those in treatment or leaving treatment who will be looking for resources.

Millennials and technology abuse
When everyone these days seems to be glued to mobile devices, Sorte says focusing on the surface level of someone’s perceived technology abuse problem misses the full picture. Instead, he says, it should be viewed as someone’s maladapted solution to another problem that they don’t have the skills necessary to deal with.

“Acting out, or compulsive behaviors, may evolve and change across all generations,” he says. “Take a 75-year-old alcoholic, a 45-year-old workaholic, a 36-year-old cocaine addict, a 20-year-old gambling addict, and a 13-year-old video-game addict, and there’s a common thread through all of that—a connection to this external thing that’s being utilized to regulate their emotions.”

The therapeutic process in dealing with behavioral health issues is based on removing the barriers to long-term sobriety across the board. For successful outcomes, Sorte says the focus must be shifted away from the individual acting out to why they continue to act out so they can be helped to develop the skills necessary for dealing with the underlying issue.

“This can be very effective in treating whatever set of compulsions that individual may have,” he says.

Sorte also says that older generations need to be more understanding of the way younger adults have been socialized. Rather than simply observing that an individual is using their mobile device excessively, it should be about whether the young person is engaging in technology as opposed to doing what might be required of them to be successful.

“If its crossing over into a pathological level of dysfunction, then it’s very likely that technology has become a substitute for a healthy emotional coping mechanism,” he says.