Psychology Majors Needed to Help At-Risk Youth

Aug 29, 2019

How do you help the daughter of a single, drug-addicted parent who also happens to be a teenage mother? Jamie is the 17-year-old mother of a newborn child and daughter of a methamphetamine addict. Growing up, Jamie was exposed to an unforgiving environment: drugs and alcohol flooded their small apartment. By 13, Jamie had tried meth and was addicted to alcohol, and things escalated quickly. She began to skip school and became sexually active, leading to her pregnancy at age 16. Without a caring family or a role model, Jamie is lost.

Jamie is a fictional character, but she represents a large community of at-risk youth. A report by the American Addiction Centers found that approximately 5.1 million young adults ages 18 to 25 had a substance abuse disorder in 2017. Though just a fraction of addicts seek help, the success rates for those who do speak for themselves. The Butler Center for Research found that 85-95% of patients are abstinent from all illegal drugs nine months after rehab.

Substance abuse is not the only defining factor that classifies an individual as at-risk and in need of guidance. One in nine teenagers and young adults are neither working nor in school. Though individual circumstances vary, these “disconnected youth” have an increased risk of substance abuse, poverty, and incarceration. Furthermore, those who drop out of high school are eight times more likely to commit crimes and serve prison time than high school graduates.

What exactly do these numbers mean? Now, more than ever, our nation has a dire need for professionals with psychology backgrounds to aid at-risk youth. Additionally, the employment of psychologists is projected to grow 14% by 2026, with an array of treatment fields to consider. In 2017 alone, psychologists worked in over 13,000 substance abuse facilities nationwide, where approximately 1.35 million patients were treated. Of those, 23% offer long-term residential treatment—one of the most effective methods for treating both drug abusers and at-risk youth.

Specialized Assistance for At-Risk Youth

Residential treatment centers provide therapy to patients through a live-in environment. They offer 24-hour supervision in a family-oriented atmosphere, providing structure and specialized services. Residential treatment facilities allow those suffering to have a safe place where they can focus on healing. Besides the therapists themselves, residential programs rely on counselors with a psychology background. These counselors build relationships with patients and guide their development through a customized approach. One hugely successful residential program is Youth For Tomorrow, founded by former Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs.

Headquartered in Bristow, Virginia, Youth For Tomorrow has served more than 8,900 children and families in the last year. Their residential counseling program is the backbone to their success in reaching at-risk youth. At Youth For Tomorrow, counselors typically hold a background in psychology and aid children and families in a versatile role. Counselors’ tasks stretch far beyond overseeing residents. Their skills allow them to monitor behavior, offer emotional support, and provide support for health and social needs. Collaboration between counselors, therapists, and teachers allows Youth For Tomorrow to maintain a success rate of 84%. This is measured byresidents moving on to pursue college, positions in the workforce, or service in the military.

The ability for psychology majors to impact thousands of lives in this manner shows their importance in today’s job market. Helping at-risk youth thrive improves our communities nationwide, and building positive foundations for our future workforce strengthens America’s economic prospects.

Are you a psychology major interested in working with at-risk youth? If you have at least 6 months of experience, see how you can help at

Written by: Patrick Maercklein

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