Treating a delinquent teen alongside like-minded youths is the norm, but it may exacerbate conduct disorders, according to José Szapocznik, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "When kids are alone together, they court each other's anti-social behavior. 'I smoke marijuana,' says one kid. The other says, 'That's great: I know where to buy it.'"
There is no shortage of evidence that destructive behavior can be socially reinforced, a phenomenon hardly confined to teens. (The APA Monitor on Psychology recently documented patients with anorexia and bulimia sharing starvation tips with one another during treatment.)
Szapocznik thinks he has a better alternative for troubled teens: In Evidence-Based Psychotherapies for Children and Adolescents, a book published by Guilford Publications, he argues for a short round of therapy in which the entire family receives counseling once a week for eight to 12 weeks. This targets the entire family, using the premise that the behavior of any one member—in this case, the adolescent—can only be understood by examining the context or family "system" in which it occurs.