Expanding Horizons Can Teach Self-Esteem


Adolescents with addiction or mental health conditions experience negative thought patterns that can lead to poor self-esteem. Changing those patterns can be a challenge for mental health care professionals, particularly when relying primarily on traditional talk therapy. Getting teens to buy into treatment and choose to improve their lives is another obstacle in the recovery process. One way to overcome these challenges is to expand their horizons by introducing them to new experiences.

The Value of Sharing New Experiences

A teen with behavioral challenges related to addiction or mental health issues rarely chooses to go to treatment. They are typically being sent to therapy or treatment by parents, school or law enforcement, or any combination of those. If they don’t want to be there, then why would they talk to you? Why would they do the work of getting healthy if they have no desire or incentive to change? Creating motivation for them through talk therapy is particularly challenging. When their only experiences are sitting in groups or classes, they can feel stifled, and these methods may even be counterproductive.

This is where expanding their horizons by sharing new experiences with your teen clients can help. Finding ways to reach them with activities instead of words can help them not only buy into their treatment but also change their negative thinking. When you are able to get your adolescent clients to change their thought patterns, their self-esteem is boosted as well. They feel self-worth by participating or learning, and they can see the value in improving their thought patterns as well.

Ideas for Expanding Horizons

Keeping in mind that the activities you use need to be at least somewhat appealing to teens, not necessarily you, you can choose experiences that will help them become engaged in their treatment process. Some ideas for expanding their horizons are:

  • Use experiential therapies such as art, music, adventure, or animal therapy to introduce new experiences
  • Create a library of books about travel or other interests to offer to them to read
  • Challenge them to try new foods and cuisines
  • Help them learn new skills or hobbies
  • Teach them dance, yoga, or a new sport
  • Include them in group therapy to encourage peer support and social skills
  • Learn about something that interests them so you can participate in or talk about it

Changing Negative Thought Patterns Through Experiences

While traditional therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) function to help change negative thought patterns, they are not successful if the client is not a willing participant. Even if engaging them in an experience is still difficult, they are more likely to participate, especially if it is something they are curious about.

As teens expand their horizons, they open their minds not only to new experiences but also to new ways of thinking. A teen may be willing to accept new ideas and interact with new people who treat them differently, allowing the teen to see themselves differently. As their views change with experiences, their thought processes can change as well.

Improving Self-Esteem Through Learning

Education is empowering; this is not a secret. Learning increases knowledge, and knowledge increases opportunities. Learning also helps teens to gain confidence in their abilities and awareness. As they are empowered to become more confident, their self-esteem increases.

Experiential learning is a particularly effective way for teens to gain knowledge. Gaining new skills or being exposed to new cultures, experiences, and ideas helps them to expand their minds and their horizons. They are able to share their knowledge with others, further increasing their self-esteem as they feel valued and worthwhile. For some of these teens, gaining experiences like these can be life-changing and help them to feel respected and to respect themselves.

Creating Lifelong Commitment by Expanding Horizons

Finding new interests and hobbies can give teens a sense of purpose and help them make decisions now and for their future education and careers. Offering teens new opportunities not only expands their horizons but also can forge a commitment to themselves and their recovery. The experiences you offer them can help bind them to their healing and maintain the motivation to stay well.

New experiences can literally be life-changing for some adolescents. They may be inspired to change their vocational plans or to help or inspire others. Your investment in their lives may even inspire them to follow in your footsteps. Most importantly, the experiences they have with you can restore their self-esteem. Believing in themselves is a priceless gift that can ultimately change the trajectory of their lives.

Giving adolescents with addiction or mental health conditions new experiences can expand their horizons and help them to buy into their treatment. Helping them to learn and grow builds confidence, which ultimately can help restore their self-esteem. Taking advantage of these opportunities to expose them to new opportunities can be a life-changing experience for them. At Sustain Recovery, our passion is changing lives. Our extended residential program is designed to fill a gap between traditional residential treatment and long-term treatment. We understand that addiction or behaviors are not the problem but rather the way they are coping with the actual problems. We offer structure and consistency within a loving environment during the treatment process. Our program helps them to learn more about themselves and rebuild their self-belief. Please contact our Irvine, California, facility at (949) 407-9052 if you have a client who could use something more than traditional residential care.