Identifying and Treating Problem Behavior in Adolescents
Chapter 2 focused on descriptions and explanations of the course of normal adolescent development. However, most assessment and intervention activities focus on aspects of abnormal or dysfunctional development, and an introduction to this topic is also appropriate. Dryfoos ( 1990), Hersen and Ammerman ( 1995), Millstein, Petersen, and Nightingale ( 1993), and Tolan and Cohler ( 1993) presented extended discussions of problematic development in adolescents, but this chapter provides an overview of major issues in defining and treating problem behaviors.
The first step in any treatment or intervention process involves identifying that a problem exists, and the second entails describing the problem. The success of interventions depends to a great extent on the adequacy of these conceptualizations. The definition of what constitutes abnormal or problematic behavior is something that has preoccupied philosophers, theologians, and mental health professionals for a very long time. The issue is particularly thorny in the case of adolescents because there is a fundamental conflict here between two views of normal adolescent behavior.
One view is that social conflicts and emotional turmoil are normal in the case of adolescents. This position can be traced back to the writings of psychoanalytically oriented theorists such as A. Freud ( 1958) and Erikson ( 1963, 1982), but it is a view widely accepted by clinicians and educators and also by parents and the general public ( Elmen & Offer,