Case Studies

Case Studies

Helping Kids Take Charge: How to get young people to turn their problems into coping skills

By Ben Furman and Christine Beuer

November/December 2009

Over the past couple of decades, children's behavioral problems have been increasingly medicalized—conceived as psychiatric disorders, diagnosed by medical professionals, and, with increasing frequency, treated with psychoactive drugs. Too often, the results of this approach include not only physical and mental side effects, but the pervasive disempowerment of the kids, their parents, their teachers, and their entire social network. If the child has a "medical" problem, there's not much that the child, or anybody in his or her life, can do to change it except focus on the pills and follow doctor's orders. Should the medical model fail to live up to its promises (as it often does), the result can be an even greater sense of hopelessness and frustration. What's left to do once the miracle drug has "failed"?

Of course, psychotherapy can have its own drawbacks. It's expensive, often inconvenient, requires a substantial investment in time, and can promote a sense of helplessness in children and parents as they wait—sometimes for years—for the "expert" intervention of professionals to have an effect.

Sometimes, of course, medications or psychotherapy are indicated, but there are many more times than we may realize when kids who get a little coaching and some help from their families, teachers, and friends, show themselves capable of solving their own behavioral problems with a minimum of expert involvement. When children are helped to take charge of changing their…

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