August 10, 2022

In 2019, mental health among high school students was bad and getting worse—an urgent concern for parents and clinicians alike. The last thing adolescents needed: a pandemic that would largely strip them of their independence and social connections.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation even more dire. More than a third (37 percent) of high school students have experienced poor mental health during the pandemic, according to a 2021 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, and almost half (44 percent) have persistently felt sad or hopeless during the previous year.

“Adolescents are facing a mental health crisis, and they need access to care designed to meet their specific needs,” says Lightfully CEO Jennifer Steiner. “A big part of the Lightfully mission is to provide that care, and it’s why we’re planning to open nine more residential treatment centers for teens over the next 18 months.”

Lightfully’s groundbreaking clinical model, called process-based therapy, provides teens with a values-centered approach that not only addresses their current struggles, but also equips them with skills to flourish throughout their lives. Let’s take a closer look at how this dynamic treatment model helps move teens from suffering into well-being.

Why Adolescent Mental Health Care Is More Important than Ever

The pandemic may be easing, but the mental health ramifications are not—particularly for young people. As teenagers continue to grapple with traumatic stressors in the aftermath of the pandemic, many find that they don’t have the necessary tools to address their emotional distress. 

“A lot of what we’re experiencing right now or seeing in general are adolescents trying to recover academically and emotionally from the pandemic,” says Dr. Stephanie Thompson, Lightfully’s director of clinical operations for the San Diego residential program. “People didn’t think it was going to last as long as it did, and that had a really profound effect on adolescents. When the adults in your life are saying, ‘We don’t know,’ it really just ramps up the anxiety.”

In fact, during the pandemic, 1 in 4 youths globally experienced clinically elevated depression symptoms, and 1 in 5 experienced clinically elevated anxiety symptoms, according to research published in JAMA Pediatrics. This only underscores why it’s important for mental health care models to tailor services specifically to help teenagers cope with the unprecedented challenges brought about by the pandemic.

After all, this isn’t an issue that can be fixed overnight or with a one-size-fits-all solution. That’s why Lighfully’s care model, which is curated to fit clients’ unique needs, is especially well-positioned to combat the ongoing mental health crisis.

What Makes Lightfully’s Care Unique

Lightfully’s treatment model does not center around mental health diagnoses. Instead, it focuses on identifying the negative processes at the root of a client’s suffering. By taking this approach, clinicians can help clients work through the underlying issues that affect their well-being and can give clients the tools they need to improve their mental wellness beyond their time at Lightfully.

“We want to take things down to a level where it’s easily digestible for children and adolescents to understand, and to really normalize the experiences that they’re having,” Thompson says. “Rather than focusing so much on diagnoses specifically, we’re asking ‘What is behind the diagnosis and the symptoms? What are these experiences?’ ”

Working with adolescent clients requires an altered approach, because younger clients often find it more difficult to speak about the issues that impact their health, Thompson says. This isn’t necessarily because they don’t want to talk about their mental health, but because they aren’t always able to voice their feelings or bring their values into perspective.

At Lightfully, clinicians utilize process-based therapy, our distinctive treatment model, which integrates a variety of evidence-based interventions, including DNA-V. DNA-V provides a language that adolescents understand and promotes strength and healing by helping clients realign their values in life.

Thompson says she’s found that using this care model helps simplify treatment for clients and refocus their priorities. 

“Adolescents just act sometimes, and there isn’t a lot of forethought,” Thompson says. “When we help teens identify their values and put values at the center, they have an anchor for their experiences and a compass for the direction in their life.”

Creating a Nurturing Environment

At Lightfully, we strive to foster relationships between all the people participating in clients’ mental wellness journey—from the clients themselves to clinicians, their families and caregivers, and their referents, as these people all make up a clients’ long-term network of support.

But it’s especially important to build and maintain a strong relationship founded on trust between young clients and clinicians, as clinicians play a key role in helping clients take a holistic look at the values that are important to them.

Thompson says Lightfully clinicians have worked to create an environment that’s welcoming and staffed with practitioners who come from diverse backgrounds, so clients can feel supported and relate to the people caring for them.

“We try to bring in this beautiful bouquet of personalities and experiences among our staff, so that there’s going to be somebody in the environment that the adolescent can relate to,” Thompson says. 

Adolescents who come into treatment often feel intolerably alone and misunderstood. When our clinicians are able to connect with them in a way that makes them feel seen, Thompson says, young people in need are able to remove their shields and step into the work ahead. 


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