What is the Seven Challenges program and can it work for your teen?

A Q&A with experts from the Youth Evaluation and Treatment Centers, who have been successfully using the Seven Challenges program for 8+ years. More on this innovative program for teen drug and alcohol users here.

minute read

The Seven Challenges: An alternative to directive care

What can you do if a teenager that you care about is using drugs or drinking? These behaviors can signal larger mental health or family systems issues that require outside help. “Telling” teens what to do can (and will) backfire on you… and abstinence itself is not necessarily the most crucial step in helping a teen with substance abuse. So is there an alternative way to get into the minds and hearts of teenagers who need help?

There is an innovative method that is taking a look at the decision process from a teen’s perspective. In this interview, we talk to Rebecca Danis, Clinical Director of the  Substance Abuse Program at Youth Evaluation and Treatment Centers in Phoenix, AZ. She will provide us with insight about The Seven Challenges Program, a nationally recognized curriculum that focuses on personal empowerment. She’ll help us answer questions like:

  1. How does the process work?
  2. Can the Seven Challenges really help your teen?  … and most importantly…
  3. How can YOU help your teen get through the program?

Read here to get informed about the Seven Challenges program and its efficacy in teen substance use treatment. Afterwards, if you have more questions, feel free to address them in the comments section below. We will do our best to provide you with a personal and prompt response.

ADDICTION BLOG: The Seven Challenges Program eliminates forced change that demands abstinence from drugs or alcohol. Can you explain to us how this program works? What are its main tenets?

YETC: Great Question. The “great push” for abstinence from other programs does not often work with teens because the teen can stay abstinent for their time in therapy but when that support leaves the teen will often relapse. The 7 Challenges program looks at overall decision making and how those decisions affect one’s well-being. The 7 Challenges Program works with teens to be honest with themselves about what is great about using drugs but also what the harmful affects are. The 7 Challenges Program works with teens to make informed decisions, not quick decisions, which is in the teens’ nature.

ADDICTION BLOG: How do teens typically react to the program?

YETC: At first teens are not trusting in the program and its outline of objectives. They do not believe that they can be honest and not be penalized. Staff works very hard to build a rapport and remind teens that we are here to help, not hurt them or punish them. Teens will then see other group members trusting in the process and eventually open up. This is when the therapeutic processing begins.

ADDICTION BLOG: How long does it mostly take for a counselor to gain a teen’s trust? Is this why your groups are held three times weekly for three hours as a time?

YETC: This program is intensive and to build rapport with a teen takes time. Every teenager is different but if the teen is already open to change and sees some of the harms of their substance use, they will begin to trust in the staffs motives within weeks of beginning the program.

ADDICTION BLOG: What kinds of strategies do counselors use to gain a teenager’s trust that parents or adults can replicate at home?

YETC: Staff make it very clear that the choices that the teens make are up to them, we cannot hold their hand and make choices for them. Furthermore, we do not have an agenda to make them change, they get to do that all on their own. Often times parents and teens have created patterns in the home that create a very difficult power struggle. We encourage parents to facilitate a trusting relationship first so that teens will come to them if they are feeling triggered or want to use. Often times the teen uses to deal with feelings that are overwhelming to them, parents may be able to help teens navigate through these feelings once the trust is established.

ADDICTION BLOG: How effective is the curriculum in promoting long term abstinence (5+ years) from alcohol or drugs?

YETC: As aforementioned, the program is about decision making overall. Therefore, if the teen practices making informed decisions consistently they should not find themselves back in a substance abusing lifestyle.

ADDICTION BLOG: What’s the state of the teenager-parent relationship typically upon program initiation? How can/does this improve during the program?

YETC: We usually meet families where the trust has been broken for quite some time. Therapists work with teens to see how their relationships have been affected and what they will need to do to make changes. The program also works with family members to begin to implement these changes and to look at what is not working for them presently.

ADDICTION BLOG: What do parents need to do to help teens during the program?

YETC: Participate, be present and show the teens that they, as parents, are willing to be honest and make changes.

ADDICTION BLOG: What skills are lacking in parents or adults that can help teenagers quit using drugs or alcohol?

YETC: Parents tend to force children into decisions without helping them to see other perspectives. The “Because I said so” or “Because it is bad for you” statements do not help a teenager understand why they should give up one of their coping skills. However negative this coping skill is, it still has a benefit to the teen. Parents often time have a hard time seeing addiction through this lens.

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
I am ready to call
i Who Answers?