In This Article Practice Interventions with Adolescents

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Specialized Organizations
  • Treatment Modalities for Externalizing Disorders
  • Treatment Modalities for Substance Abuse
  • Research

Social Work Practice Interventions with Adolescents
Mary C. Ruffolo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 June 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0197


Intervening in the lives of adolescents is challenging. Social work practice with adolescents involves working not just with the adolescents but also with their families, schools, and neighborhoods. Helping adolescents to confront adversity and develop mechanisms that promote resiliency is critical, especially for adolescents who are at risk of emotional or behavioral problems. There is a wide range of effective interventions in working with adolescents experiencing internalizing disorders, externalizing disorders, or substance abuse disorders. These interventions include: behavioral therapy, brief strategic family therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, family focused therapy, interpersonal therapy, motivational enhancement interventions, multidimensional family therapy, multidimensional treatment foster care, and multisystemic therapy. Many of these effective interventions address unique challenges faced by racial and ethnic minority youth, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth, youth with comorbid conditions, and youth who experience traumatic events. Disseminating these evidence-based interventions in a range of child-serving systems, addressing system inequities, and addressing disparities in service access and outcomes are critical issues facing practitioners, researchers, administrators and policymakers working with adolescents and their families.

Introductory Works

Many adolescents who experience mental disorders do not receive mental health services and racial and ethnic minority youth are less likely than white youth to receive services (see Merikangas, et al. 2010; Merikangas, et al. 2011). Using a meta-systems framework to understand how best to intervene with adolescents and their families helps practitioners to engage in interventions that promote positive outcomes for adolescents and that address barriers in access, resources, and treatment options (see Kazak, et al. 2010). In addition, interventions selected need to address developmentally appropriate practice strategies (see Meschke, et al. 2012). Distilling the elements of evidence-based interventions to enhance practitioner’s use of effective strategies in work with adolescents is a promising approach (see Chorpita and Daleiden 2009).

  • Chorpita, B. F., and E. L. Daleiden. 2009. Mapping evidence-based treatments for children and adolescents: Application of the distillation and matching model to 615 treatments from 322 randomized trials. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 77.3: 566–579.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0014565E-mail Citation »

    Discusses an innovative approach to mapping evidence-based treatments for children and adolescents in order to improve implementation and dissemination. The authors reviewed 615 treatments from 322 randomized trials to develop the common components or elements of the evidence-based interventions.

  • Kazak, A. E., K. Hoagwood, J. R. Weisz, et al. 2010. A meta-systems approach to evidence-based practice for children and adolescents. American Psychologist 65.2: 85–97.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0017784E-mail Citation »

    Presents a meta-systems approach to overcome system problems and improve mental health outcomes for children and adolescents. It highlights the need to include families, cultural norms and values, and service sectors in order to address disparities and optimize outcomes for youth.

  • Merikangas, K. R., J. -P. He, D. Brody, P. W. Fisher, K. Bourdon, and D. S. Koretz, 2010. Prevalence and treatment of mental disorders among US children in the 2001–2004 NHANES. Pediatrics 125.1: 75–81.

    DOI: 10.1542/peds.2008-2598E-mail Citation »

    Reports on the twelve-month estimates of specific mental disorders for children and adolescents from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The most prevalent disorders included: attention/deficit hyperactivity disorder, mood disorders, conduct disorders, and panic or generalized anxiety disorders.

  • Merikangas, K. R., J. He, M. Burstein, et al. 2011. Service utilization for lifetime mental disorders in U.S. adolescents: Results of the National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 50.1: 32–45.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.jaac.2010.10.006E-mail Citation »

    Reports on data from a nationally representative sample of adolescents on rates and sociodemographic correlates of lifetime mental health service use by severity, type, and number of DSM-IV disorders. About one third of adolescents with mental disorders received services.

  • Meschke, L., C. Peter, and S. Bartholomae. 2012. Developmentally appropriate practice to promote healthy adolescent development: Integrating research and practice. Child and Youth Care Forum 41.1: 89–108.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10566-011-9153-7E-mail Citation »

    Provides a review of research on adolescent development highlighting developmentally appropriate practice (DAP). The authors identify DAP strategies for four stages of adolescent development (young early adolescence, early adolescence, middle adolescence, late adolescence).

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