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The Power Of Gratitude For Teen Mental Health And Wellness

The Power of Gratitude for Young Adult Mental Health

Est. reading time: 2 mins
Posted Under: Treatment Insights

Clinically Reviewed by: Amanda Fialk, PhD, LCSW, LICSW


This month, we celebrate Thanksgiving – a holiday that’s not just an excuse for turkey and pumpkin pie, but a reminder for us to take stock of what we are most grateful for.

At The Dorm, Thanksgiving is a time to recognize the power and impact of reflection and gratitude. While reflection and gratitude are empowering and fulfilling for our adolescent and young adult clients, practicing it takes perseverance and daily hard work.

“We recognize that gratitude is a cultivated, mindful skill that we never stop working on,” says John McGeehan, LCSW, CADC, Founder and President of The Dorm. “For our young clients overcoming mental health challenges, gratitude can feel particularly abstract and out of reach. But developing and practicing gratitude can have transformative healing effects and benefit our clients’ physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.”

Why gratitude matters

The key benefit of gratitude is that it helps to counter and combat negativity and frustration and gives clients the mental space for perspective, self-care, compassion and positive thinking. For young people with depression or anxiety, quieting a negative feedback loop is an important step in treatment, paving the way for a new perspective and enabling clients to develop coping mechanisms and skills-based future thinking.

Expanding research is also pointing to ways in which gratitude offers proven physical effects. Richard A. Emmons, a psychology professor at UC Davis, explains that gratitude can “lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep.” Through thinking about what we appreciate, there is a calming or ‘parasymathetic’ effect on the endocrine and nervous system which lowers the stress hormone, cortisol. With less stress, anyone — but particularly young people – have more opportunities to process, heal and make more informed and independent decisions.

Gratitude-informed therapy at The Dorm

The proven benefits of gratitude on the mind, body and spirit guide how we introduce, process, and utilize gratitude to inform therapeutic interventions at The Dorm.

“What we know is that the benefits and power of gratitude are not just intuitive, they are increasingly evidence-based,” says Amanda Fialk, Ph.D., LCSW, CASAC, Partner and Chief of Clinical Services at The Dorm. Emmons and Sterns, 2013  from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence cite gratitude as “underappreciated in clinical practice” with a “dynamic healing influence.” Renshaw & Rock’s (2018) brief study of its effect as an intervention among college students points to a greater opportunity for research. Consequently, our team at The Dorm is incorporating gratitude, in all forms, into how we deliver care and treatment.

What this looks like in practice depends on the individual client and his or her needs. This may take the form of intentional gratitude journaling and discussion during individual therapy. But it can also take a more general form as part of guided discussions in group therapy, volunteer initiatives that allow clients to give back to the community and mindful practices like yoga, meditation and walking groups that take clients outdoors.

“For a young adult or teenage client, it’s often helpful to make gratitude less conceptual and something that can be felt, experienced, acted upon, and shared,” Amanda Fialk explains. “When our clients engage in exercise or meditation, a volunteer initiative, or simply enjoy a walk outside and breathe in fresh air, gratitude becomes less of an instruction and more of an intuitive process. And when they feel a sense of belonging as part of our community, that feeling of gratitude multiplies tenfold.”

Do you or a loved one need help with mental health?

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