by Wayne Munchel, LCSW   0 Comments

HOPE is the indispensable instigator for change, progress, and recovery – the sacred spark that prods us to get out of bed and show up, and to persist when things get difficult and scary. Hope is the catalyst that launches civil rights movements and social revolutions. And without hope, disadvantaged youth will not seek out, let alone stay in services that try to help them address their many challenges. Hope is foundational to our work.

We hope that our youthful clients are hopeful – but what can practitioners do that actually instills and nurtures hope? Below is my Top 10 list for ways to build and sustain hope in ourselves and in youth. (Hope you find it helpful!)

Practice Hopeful Skills for Yourself

Hopeless providers cannot share what they don’t have and cannot authentically teach what they don’t practice. Acknowledging that we are all susceptible to hopelessness and cynicism when repeatedly confronted with painful situations and seemingly intractable problems is important. Identifying our own wellsprings of hope and mindfully and routinely tapping into them is essential. Take the long‐view — we often wish to see some immediate results and hear some warm, fuzzy feedback from the youth we are trying to help. This seldom happens in the 6-month treatment plan we may be allotted.

Listen, Listen and Then…Listen a Little More

How well you can be present with an open heart and open mind is one of the most precious gifts you can offer. Remember, listening is not the same as waiting for other people to shut up, so you can talk.

Look for Strengths and Past Successes

Our culture tends to be very problem-oriented and so much clinical training is focused on uncovering, describing and documenting what’s wrong.

Ensure Access to Peer Supports

Sometimes described as “living embodiments of hope,” peer supporters and people with lived experiences of recovery offer powerful medicine.

Share Stories of Hope

Cultivate and collect examples from your own life, family and friends, and from people that you have helped that illustrate how people have overcome adversity in their lives. Check out YouTube or the Mental Health Channel as other potential sources of youth telling their own stories of struggle and eventual success. Watch them with your youth.

Identify Small Steps

Often the journey of a thousand miles seems so overwhelming. Breaking it down to smaller, day-by-day action items can build confidence and increase hope.

Help Youth Envision a Positive Future

Research indicates that the more people use their pre-frontal cortex, the easier it is for them to begin to drive present-day actions, plans, and choices. They would use the frontal cortex to visualize where they most want to be, what they most want to be doing and who they want to be with.

Facilitate Connection with the Community

Ultimately, youth cannot rely on mental health clinics and social service agencies to sustain a sense of hope and meaningful roles. Practitioners need to create and support exposures and opportunities for youth to link with schools, training programs, and cultural and spiritual institutions.

Rehearse Hopeful, Compassionate Self-talk

The more youth can be guided to give themselves some credit and encouragement, the better. These are often the little sayings that Grandmothers repeat to us: “You’re doing the best you can,” “You can make it if you set your mind to it,” and “I believe in you.”

Assist Youth in Connecting with Nature

Revitalizing youth by accompanying them to a park, or on a nature walk can inspire hope by seeing the resiliency and wonder in the world around them.

How do you keep hope alive?

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by Wayne Munchel, LCSW   2 Comments

In order for youth and young adults to obtain support and treatment they usually must be diagnosed with a severe mental illness. Many of these young people have already been labelled with a litany of childhood diagnoses such as oppositional/defiant disorder, conduct disorder and ADHD. As they come of age and seek help from the adult systems of care, they must be re-diagnosed with adult psychiatric disorders to remain eligible for services.

What are the potential impacts on youth being diagnosed?

Some youth may describe their diagnosis as having a beneficial impact, while others may find it to be deeply troubling and detrimental to their emerging identity and forward progress. Here are some of the more common reactions:

  • Many young people express a sense of relief for having their problems identified and named.
  • Some youth and their families discuss how their diagnosis reduced or removed much of the shame, blame and confusion in trying to understand their struggles.
  • A percentage of youth may draw considerable comfort in not feeling alone and being able to access support groups where they can share their struggles and coping strategies with others who’ve had similar experiences.

  • Others report an experience of being stigmatized and “othered” for being different.
  • Still other youth may react negatively to being labelled for what’s wrong with them, rather than being seen and understood for what’s happened to them.
  • Many young people may report feeling a heightened sense of hopelessness and foreclosing of their futures upon hearing they have a chronic, life-long brain disease.


Of course, young people may experience a mixture of all the above and they may change over time.

Here are a few recommendations to consider when diagnosing youth:

  1. Devote ample time and repeated opportunities for youth to question, challenge and explore what their given diagnosis means to them, their families and friends. (Note that due to wide power differentials and perceived authority, this is a difficult conversation for most youth to initiate.)
  2. Ensure that diagnosed youth understand that their “diagnosis is not destiny” and does not describe who they are, nor define who they wish to become. Not for a minute.
  3. Emphasize that they are the authors of their unfolding story and that their self-understanding is far more important than any label.
  4. Ultimately, it is the young adult’s prerogative to accept or reject any diagnosis and seek second opinions.

What do you see as the potential helps and harms of diagnoses? Leave a comment below.

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