Straight Talk Advice

May 09, 2007

Early intervention for troubled youth hugely successful

Dear Straight Talk: I would like to tell “Chelsea,” the girl who didn’t want to talk to a stranger about her problems, how effective counseling is—and how the earlier you receive it the better it works.

I ran a 20-month grant that gave early-intervention counseling to youth in emotional trouble. The grant ran from October 2000 through June 2002 and was funded by The United Way for the Law Enforcement Chaplaincy of Placer County.

We had 168 licensed therapists who agreed to be available within 24 to 48 hours of being contacted by a youth in need. The youth were referred to the counselors by schools, county mental health, law enforcement, and other therapists.

Upon entering the program, the youth were what we call “at-risk.” In other words, they were doing poorly in school, their relationship with parents and peers was strained or ruined, they were breaking rules or in trouble with the law, some were depressed, some were angry, some were abusing substance, some were engaged in extreme behavior—all had the potential to harm themselves.

In all, fifty youth saw counselors for two to ten sessions each. To see if the counseling made a difference, counselors completed a before-and-after evaluation of each youth.

In all cases, self esteem improved markedly, peer and family relationships improved, school performance rose, the clients stopped engaging in behaviors that were getting them into trouble, and they were no longer thinking of harming themselves.

There was one group that needed more understanding and that was the high-achieving females. Their feeling that they were failures was profound—even as they were doing well in school and getting other forms of approval. We found that this group needed more than ten counseling sessions, and in two cases, we went up to 20 sessions.

“Chelsea” didn’t say what was troubling her, but I hope she gets counseling. It really does work.—Kathleen Snyder, Suicide Prevention Coordinator

Dear Ms. Snyder: Yes, it does and your program proved this with a 100 percent success rate. With the high rate of suicide among youth, it’s unfortunate that this program is no longer available. Programs like these should be permanent features of our cities and towns. Many kids with emotional troubles don’t end up getting help. Their problems compound and they find themselves unable to maneuver through the maze of the adult world to even find a counselor. They lack direction, money, and parental support. Your program cut through the obstacles and steered them to counseling professionals without delay.

A high percentage of teen issues are situational and your program showed that two to ten sessions of counseling are all that is needed for most at-risk youth to turn a corner. Not only is this the moral approach, but the cost to society in dollars is lower when our youth enter adulthood with both feet on the ground. Programs like these make our society richer in every way.

Dear Straight Talk: A few weeks ago I wrote because I was afraid my long-distance boyfriend was going to fall for one of his sister’s friends. Your teen panel was right: under the circumstances, I just needed to trust. I was being insecure. I was shutting down and distrusting my boyfriend. They gave me the courage to open up about my feelings—which led him to suggest that we get together with his sister’s friends. By hanging out with them, it was clear they were just friends with my boyfriend. They even apologized for causing me stress. Now we are all friends and I don’t worry when I’m not there.—Callie, 16, North Carolina

Dear Callie: Congratulations. You got out of your head and into reality. You used communication and observation to determine the reality of the situation, rather than let your imagination continue making up the story. Amazing how things clear up when we do that! I’m glad we could help.


Comment Form

Straight Talk Advice readers are known for their frank and constructive posts that lead to insightful conversations that help many people! Please keep these guidelines in mind when posting:

  • Be constructive: Needlessly cruel or obscene comments will probably be removed. Be conscious of this so your point can be heard.
  • Be relevant: Spam or senseless character attacks irrelevant to the discussion will also probably be removed.

Happy posting!

Straight Talk Advice Recommends