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NCAD speaker: To help the adolescent, understand the family

September 9, 2010
by Gary A. Enos, Contributing Editor
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Provider relates the joys, challenges of working with young clients

A session presenter at this week’s National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) urged clinicians working with adolescent clients to explore as much as possible the family dynamics that have shaped youths’ experiences.

In his own work with adolescents, “I want to know more about the family than I want to know about them,” said Jeb Bird, regional administrator at the White Deer Run treatment organization in Pennsylvania, a CRC Health Group facility.

Bird said he generally finds the youths with whom he works very bright and creative, and often highly injured by their family systems. “I’ve seen so many parents drop off their kids for treatment and then take a three-week vacation,” he said. Many of the children perceive that their parents don’t care about their welfare.

Bird acknowledged that insurance restrictions on treatment lengths of stay pose one of the most difficult barriers to clinical success with youths. Discussing the four-week stay typical of White Deer Run’s inpatient program for youths, he said, “What can you do with someone in four weeks?”

He added, “It would be great for most of these kids to have six months away from their environment.” He mentioned that transitional/sober homes for youths are sorely needed and represent a significant business opportunity for treatment organizations.

Bird spoke on engagement strategies for youths with co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders. He said there are no standardized treatment interventions for this young client population, and added that analyzing which disorder had the earlier onset in a particular individual doesn’t tell him much.

“Which came first doesn’t matter to me, because I really don’t care,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to tease that out,” in part because adolescents aren’t that accurate in relating their history.