There are a range of skills that will assist young people in managing situations that may pose a threat to their goals. These will be specific to the young person involved in treatment and practitioners can target their focus to the individual needs and preferences of the young person. Skills that are commonly useful in managing high risk situations include: assertiveness skills; time management skills; planning skills; stress management; anger management; communication skills; positive self-talk; cognitive restructuring, and so forth. It may be most useful for the practitioner to build existing strengths rather than introduce an area that the young person finds new or particularly challenging.
For example, the practitioner may notice that the young person finds it very difficult to manage stress, however has shown good ability in planning. An initial focus that enhances their planning skills to assist them in managing events that lie ahead may be more engaging than teaching stress management skills that are new and challenging. However, over time, if confidence in one domain increases, the young person can transfer existing skills and knowledge to new domains and will feel more confident to learn and try new skills.
Thinking about learning new skills
Regardless of what skill the young person and the practitioner choose to focus on, there are a range of strategies that can be implemented for learning.
- Ensure learning is relevant and identify the context. If a practitioner is teaching a young person a new skill, it is essential that these skills have some context in the young person’s life. Encourage the young person to identify and describe exactly where the skill will be relevant.
- Use tools such as prompts and guides to begin with, but encourage the young person to perform the task without these early in the process of learning. The sooner prompts and guides can be put aside the better, because this means the learning becomes an internal process that is with the young person all the time. Sometimes we don’t know what we know until we are in a position where we are tested.
- Spread out the learning over time. Try to avoid “binge learning” and set learning up to be gradual. This is important for a range of reasons, not least to build confidence at success. Young people generally want to take on more than they can handle. The practitioner can provide useful boundaries on this to ensure learning is productive and sustained.
- Encourage the young person to find safe opportunities to practice their newly learned skills. Deliberate practice involves tracking and mindfully applying what has been learnt. In particular, rehearsal with the practitioner can be extremely useful. Keeping diaries or records of using a new skill can be helpful.
There are many practical strategies for relapse prevention. It can be useful to provide a menu of options for the young person to choose from.
Central to relapse prevention is for young people to develop an understanding of cravings and urges. Young people experience cravings and these can feel overwhelming and lead to relapse. Encouraging the young person to understand cravings as a normal experience that can be overcome is important.
C4iii. Identify unhelpful thinking styles
This element explains a framework that practitioners can use to assist a young person in identifying unhelpful thoughts. These are often automatic and unhelpful thoughts and young people can be quite disconnected from the thoughts, experiencing only how the thought makes them feel. Becoming aware of the thought and having the opportunity to challenge or restructure that thought can be a useful tool in both understanding and preventing relapse.
C3vii. Emotion focused coping and self-care
When a problem-focused approach is untenable, it can be useful for the practitioner to provide an emotion-focused approach. This can assist the young person to stabilise the situation as a stepping stone to considering it more objectively and with a solution focus.