Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Counseling for Adolescents and Children At-Risk in Italy

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Counseling for Adolescents and Children At-Risk in Italy

Article excerpt

The aim of the present article is to describe the difficulties experienced by some Italian children and adolescents. We distinguish, however, between overt forms of maladjustment, such as juvenile delinquency, drug addiction, depression, and suicidal behavior, and less severe forms of maladjustment, which are generally associated with poor decision-making skills, social difficulties, and unproductive coping strategies. This presentation is then followed by a description of the current counseling situation in Italy. Also presented is a specific counseling program for at-risk young adolescents and children, conducted with a small group of individuals as part of a broader prevention project aimed at preventing bullying.


Adolescents in Western societies frequently find themselves having to cope with difficult situations that can significantly influence their development and maturation. At times, however, these situations can be the source of great stress and discomfort, because they call for efficacious coping strategies that young people at this age may not have yet developed. Hence, their health as well as their current and future quality of life may be at risk (Frydenberg, 2002; Mann, Harmoni, & Power, 1989; Nota, Mann, Soresi, & Friedman, 2002).

These are some of the reasons why Italian educators and health and social service providers have begun focusing more attention on adolescents over the last few years. Experience has shown that certain signals of maladjustment can be observed early on, and if not promptly and adequately treated, can lead to serious personal and social problems and to psychopathology. Adolescents can experience dramatic problems associated with more manifest forms of maladjustment (i.e., juvenile delinquency, drug addiction, and mental health problems, including depression and suicidal behavior). Yet, they can also encounter less severe forms of maladjustment associated with poor decisional abilities, social difficulties, and the tendency to use unproductive coping strategies. Although the latter problems do not imply an immediately threatening situation, they underlie the dissatisfaction many adolescents report with their quality of life (Bonnino, Cattelino, & Ciairano, 2003; Chavez, Oetting, & Swaim, 1994; Kovacs, 1997; Nota & Soresi, 1998; Skinner & Wellborn, 1997; Torres & Solberg, 2001).

A particularly critical period is that of late childhood-early adolescence, when young individuals run the risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of aggressiveness and bullying at school. Frequently, this risk is due to children of this age having yet to adequately develop the social skills they need to cope with these situations efficaciously. Therefore, in the early 1990s, many research projects, more than ever before in Italy, were launched to monitor early forms of maladjustment, such as bullying. The results of these studies have lead to the implementation of new prevention programs (Gini, 2004; Menesini, 2000).


As mentioned earlier, Italian researchers have been monitoring maladjustment and mental health problems for some years now. For example, one recent Department of the Interior (2002) report on juvenile delinquency revealed that, over the last 10 years, petty larceny and robbery rates have increased by 47% and that the incidence of adolescent drug-use has risen by 32%. There has also been an increase in the number of juvenile criminals who use firearms to commit murder. Moreover, the most vulnerable youths in weak social and relational contexts are exploited in a number of ways: 144,285 children under the age of 14 work, and 31,500 of these are involved in activities evincing the characteristics of juvenile exploitation. In the first nine months of 2003, as many as 420 cases of sexual abuse on minors were recorded. This is an increase of 13. …

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