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Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Mindfulness-Based Approach to Working with High-Risk Adolescents

A fifteen-year-old contemplates the meaning of life as most of his friends are either incarcerated or killed. A sixteen-year-old drug dealer fights back tears as he thinks about how his mom would feel if he got shot.  

From the transcripts of client sessions, it’s clear that Sam Himelstein cares deeply about his young clients, and is able to reach kids with court-ordered therapy who  are "used to being pushed around by the system."  
"Adolescents (especially high-risk adolescents) are well accustomed to receiving preaching, advice-giving, and top-down teaching… The irony in my personal experience has been that, because they were not forced to change, clients approached in a mindfulness model felt more open to the possibility of therapy and change."
In A Mindfulness-Based Approach to Working with High-Risk Adolescents, Dr. Himelstein urges therapists to think of mindfulness not as a "technique" but as "a more holistic approach to working with other human beings." This includes teaching mindfulness formally and informally, as well as "the application of mindfulness for therapists themselves to develop personally and professionally."

Anyone who counsels youth would benefit from Dr. Himelstein's perspective, as well as from his guidelines on:
  • deciding when to self-disclose, based on what’s in the best interests of the client;
  • gently redirecting kids who use inappropriate humor or aggression to mask negative emotions;
  • leading nine different mindfulness-based activities that have been particularly effective with high-risk adolescents; and 
  • facilitating groups, including: 
    • working with a co-facilitator,
    • promoting respect among participants, and 
    • recognizing when not to push traumatized kids to share their reactions with the group.

With permission from the publisher, next week I'll post a sample passage from the book: Eight Principles for Teaching Mindfulness Meditation to Adolescents.  

Over the next few weeks, I'll also be posting an author interview, a review of Dr. Himelstein's Mindfulness-Based Substance Abuse Treatment Curriculum for Adolescents, and a sample activity on identifying personal triggers for problematic behavior


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