The Significance of Teaching Teens Empathy and Compassion in Recovery

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The Significance of Teaching Teens Empathy and Compassion in Recovery

With increasingly less human interaction due to more screen time and increased social distance, empathy and compassion are at an increased deficit among teens. This is particularly true of teens with substance use and mental health disorders. The benefits of teaching teens skills like empathy and compassion are significant to their recovery. Helping teens develop an understanding of others can have a ripple effect not only on their healing process but also on others in their lives.

In Search of Empathy in Recovery

As screen time has increased, human interaction has decreased significantly for adolescents. When COVID-19 hit and social distancing became a harsh reality, the impact on face-to-face social interactions for teens was devastating. These factors have significantly impacted an already serious deficit of empathy and compassion among teens. Notably, those with substance use disorder (SUD), as well as many mental health diagnoses, have even greater deficits in empathy for others.

Research has demonstrated the deficits of empathy across the board for those with SUD. To combat these deficits, studies are looking at empathy as a potential preventative measure against substance abuse. Data suggests that those who show empathy and consideration for others are significantly less likely to use drugs or alcohol. In other words, teaching teens to have empathy and compassion for others could help maintain recovery and prevent relapse.

Compassion as a Tool for Healing

Healthcare workers have been increasingly encouraged to treat patients with compassion over the years. Research has shown that compassion greatly improves the outcome of both patient satisfaction and quality of care, improving the healing process. Within the mental healthcare industry, compassion has also been emphasized as a significant factor in the healing process. Patients respond drastically better to compassionate care.

Modeling compassion for clients is important in the healing process, as well. Teens in treatment for substance use or mental health disorders can learn empathy for others and to treat others with compassion as part of their healing process. However, learning self-compassion is also an essential tool for healing.

Focusing on Compassion in Treatment

Self-compassion has many healing benefits in recovery. Compassion is essential in healing self-esteem and improving overall mental health and well-being. Within the recovery process, self-compassion also helps overcome self-criticism and negative thoughts and fight against stress, anxiety, and depression. This, in turn, leads to improved success in sustaining recovery and can even help to protect against future substance use.

Compassion focused therapy (CFT) has become more commonly used to help counteract the shame and guilt so commonly associated with substance abuse and trauma. By helping teens focus on self-compassion, they learn to counteract their negative thought processes. They can then replace negative thoughts with positive, compassionate, self-soothing thoughts to improve emotional regulation. By offering treatment that is compassion-based, teens learn skills that help them not only in the present but in their future as well. As they learn compassion for themselves, they can then learn empathy and consideration for others.

Teaching Teens Empathy and Compassion

Teens often struggle to see outside of their own myopic perspective. Helping teens relate to and understand how others are feeling and then exercising compassion toward them may seem impossible. However, teens can learn from positive role models what it looks like to be empathetic and compassionate. They can learn to be present and listen to others and learn what it means to actually hear what people say. Having empathy and compassion modeled to them and being heard will help them understand the value of learning these skills.

When teens witness or experience empathy and compassion themselves, they are far more likely to extend compassion to others. Understanding the value that empathy and compassion can bring to the recovery process can help inspire teens to work harder to learn compassion for both themselves and others. As they learn to understand the value that extending compassion to others has, they will work harder to initiate the chain reaction of compassion in their lives.

The Ripple Effect of Empathy and Compassion

As teens in recovery learn empathy and compassion, they may also learn to enjoy giving compassion and empathy to others. Practicing compassion is the best way to understand the power it has and the strength it can give to teens while in recovery. As the body heals physically, compassion can help heal mentally.

Giving compassion to others, no matter how small the gesture, creates a ripple effect of empathy and compassion in others. Others will see the kindness and care teens show to other people and will want to give consideration to more people, and so on. All of this positivity in demonstrating and actively participating in empathetic behaviors and compassionate acts will also serve to help heal and solidify the teen’s recovery.

Teaching teens empathy and compassion in recovery can help in their healing process. Learning compassion and empathy can also serve as a proactive relapse prevention technique. In addition, helping teens discover empathy and compassion for others can create a ripple effect of compassion in the lives of those around them. Sustain Recovery is an extended residential treatment program for adolescents with addiction or co-occurring mental health diagnoses. We help teens discover and heal from the deep-rooted problems that lead to the outward behaviors of addiction. Our Irvine, California, facility helps to connect teens to resources in their area to promote sustained recovery. Contact us at (949) 407-9052 to learn more about our program. 

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I first met Sayeh in November of 2013 just after my 15 year old daughter had been admitted to a residential treatment program. As part of the program I was required to attend 2-3 AlAnon meetings a week. Sayeh attended the same AlAnon meetings as well as Alumni events as I. It soon became apparent to me that Sayeh had a heart for recovery, program, and God. When I was encouraged to get a sponsor I didn’t hesitate. Dependable, respectful, kind and generous of spirit, she exudes an inner peace that I hope to achieve with her loving guidance, as I work my own program. She is patient, & full of wisdom that she is always happy to share with her sponsees and fellow parents. I am so grateful our journeys brought us together.

Megan
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