Troubled teens benefit from mindfulnessMindfulness is proving to be an effective tool for adolescents who have been abused, neglected or living in stressful conditions, according to leaders of a project at the Neuropsychiatric Research Institute in Fargo.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
Mindfulness is proving to be an effective tool for adolescents who have been abused, neglected or living in stressful conditions, according to leaders of a project at the Neuropsychiatric Research Institute in Fargo.
In the project, called SPARCS or Structured Psychotherapy for Adolescents Responding to Chronic Stress, more than 150 professionals in social work, mental health, counseling and other fields throughout North Dakota have been trained to help kids, ages 12 to 18, who may be living in stress-filled homes.
They may have parents with mental health conditions or substance abuse problems or other challenges.
“We wondered, what kind of intervention do we give them to help them cope?” said Heather Simonich, coordinator of the Treatment Collaborative for Traumatized Youth program at NRI.
“We wondered if kids would really be able to wrap their heads around this (mindfulness technique).”
She and her colleagues found that “kids respond fabulously” to the technique, she said. “They make better decisions, they’re less reactive and they can tolerate negative emotions, and that makes them less impulsive.”
Most notable improvement is evident in decreased placement disruption among kids in foster care and fewer behavioral problems in kids living in residential facilities, she said.
Seeing the positive effects of mindfulness training on kids who are coping with the most stressful situations is “especially gratifying.”
Why do the kids like the mindfulness technique?
“These are skills they can use anywhere, anytime,” Simonich said. “Not all skills we give them have this flexibility.”
Mindfulness also gives them control, she said. “They can become very successful in using mindfulness in their everyday lives.”
These kids have difficulties such as emotional regulation, depression or anxiety, she said. “This helps them step away from that. It changes their perspective on all of those difficulties.”
Once the adolescents have begun to master the techniques of mindfulness “they can be more creative or diverse in terms of how they manage that moment” when negative memories, sensations or images come to mind, said Stephen Wonderlich, director of clinical research at NRI.
Mindfulness research has found improved psychological health in people who suffer from anxiety, depression, substance abuse, trauma, eating disorders, and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, Simonich said.
“The evidence is still out as to whether this is a better approach than others for mental health intervention,” Wonderlich said, “but preliminary evidence looks promising.”
Distributed by McClatchy Tribune.