Mindfulness and Adolescents : A Well Needed Intervention

Mindfulness Training as an Intervention for Substance User Incarcerated Adolescents: A Pilot Grounded Theory Study


Authors: Sam Himelstein, Stephen Saul, Alberto Garcia-Romeu, and Daniel Pinedo (pictured)

s200_daniel.pinedoMind Body Awareness Project, Oakland, California, USA; Insights Program of Star Vista, East Palo Alto, California, USA; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Michigan, USA; Department of Clinical Psychology, Sofia University, Oakland, California, USA

Mindfulness-based treatment for adolescents is a clinical and research field still in its infancy. Literature is needed to address specific subcultural populations to expand this growing field. Further, minimal literature addresses the process of teaching mindfulness to adolescents. The current study investigated how to effectively teach mindfulness to 10 incarcerated adolescent substance users (N = 10) in an urban California detention setting. A grounded theory approach was used to collect and analyze interview data over a 1-year period during 2011 and 2012 in order to develop an initial theory for teaching mindfulness to incarcerated adolescent substance users. Implications, limitations, and future research are discussed.


There is a significant need for substance abuse1 interventions for juvenile offenders. There were, for example, approximately 167,000 drug violations among juveniles in the United States in 2009. (Knoll & Sickmund, 2012). Furthermore, the number of cases placed on probation increased 29% from 1985 to 2009 (Livsey, 2012) and the daily use of illicit substances such as marijuana for 12th graders is 1 in 15, the highest use recorded in the past 30 years (Johnston, O’Malley, Bachman, & Schulenberg, 2012).

There are some evidence-based interventions targeted toward juvenile offenders that have been shown to reduce recidivism, substance use, and behaviors associated with delinquency (Guerra, Kim, & Boxer, 2008). Multidimensional family therapy (MDFT; Liddle et al., 2001) targets substance-abusing adolescents and their families. Research on MDFT has been conducted since 1985 and suggests that the intervention significantly reduces substance use among adolescents (Liddle et al., 2001; Liddle, Dakof, Turner, Henderson, & Greenbaum, 2008; Rigter et al., 2013). Further, Multisystemic Therapy (MST; Henggeler, Schoenwald, Borduin, Rowland, & Cunningham, 2009), another evidence-based multiple systems approach, has been shown to decrease substance use and behaviors often associated with substance use such as delinquency and incarceration (Henggeler et al., 2009; Schaeffer & Borduin, 2005).

Although the above two interventions have a prolonged history of evidence, they require a substantial amount of resources (such as prolonged clinical training with astronomical costs) that juvenile detention facilities and the families of incarcerated adolescents often do not have. Given the lack of financial resources, and because adult-based substance user interventions that do not require such resources (e.g., Motivational Interviewing) have shown limited and mixed efficacy with adolescents (Barnett, Sussman, Smith, Rohrbach, & Spruijt-Metz, 2012; Deas, Riggs, Langenbuche, Goldman, & Brown, 2000; Masten, Faden, Zucker, & Spear, 2009; Wagner, 2009), there is a strong need for efficacious substance user treatment2 approaches that are fiscally sustainable for incarcerated adolescents.


Dr. Samuel Himelstein, Sofia/ITP alumnus sits with a client. 

Dr. Himelstein is a licensed psychologist in the state of California (PSY25229), an author, trainer, parent coach, and researcher. His day job is as a Behavioral Health Clinician at the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center (ACJJC), an institution he was once incarcerated in as a young teen. Dr. Himelstein is passionate about working with juvenile justice populations, addiction populations, and those suffering from trauma. He offers individual, group, and family-based counseling sessions in Downtown Oakland, speaks at conferences nationally, and is committed to training clinicians, teachers, other healers in how to effectively build authentic relationships with adolescents through his training institute, the Center for Adolescent Studies. Dr. Himelstein is also currently planning to launch an online-based training community specifically for parents, Parenting Tough Teens


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2 thoughts on “Mindfulness and Adolescents : A Well Needed Intervention

Add yours

  1. Very glad you liked it.

    I started this blog in summer 2014, and it got a life of its own; Sammi, Al and Dan are doing a really great job.


    Olga Louchakova-Schwartz, M.D., Ph.D. Director of Research, Chair, Ph.D. in Psychology Global Program and Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology Residential Program Sofia University USA 1069 E. Meadow Circle Palo Alto, CA 94303



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