Brief Behavioural Coaching for teenager anxiety

Teenager Anxiety

Brief Behavioural Coaching for teenager anxiety

We often have teenagers at our camps who present with anxiety conditions to various activities. It is suggested that 25% of 13-18yr olds have some kind of anxiety disorder. Therefore it is only natural that we will at some stage have to manage instances arising out of these conditions. It is commonly asked by parents how we deal with teens who present with anxiety around certain activities. Given that knowledge it is important that we have some evidence based tools to help us out.

Evidence to help us out with teenager anxiety.

In 2017 a study was done for Brief Behavioural Therapy (BBT) and whilst we don’t currently offer any counselling on our programs we have looked at how we can use this approach for mentoring and coaching.

The randomised clinical trial suggests that out of 185 youths who participated in the study those in the BBT group had significantly higher rates of clinical improvement compared to those youths who undertook other forms of treatment (Weersing, et al. 2017).

It is important to note that fear and anxiety can often be confused and it is important to be able to separate the two ( Stosny, S. Ph.D., 2013). But it is also important to note that anxiety can lead to fear and subsequent anger and whilst we attempt to treat or manage the anger emotion we often forget to treat the ’cause’ of the anger – fear and anxiety (Seltzer, L. F. Ph.D., 2008). Therefore being able to manage anxiety could be the gateway to managing fear and anger issues.

So what is Brief Behavioral Therapy?

In Brief, it is where youth are asked about something in life they find desirable but difficult, such as social settings. Then over time supporting them with problem-solving skills to aid in stress management around that particular activity. They are encouraged not to withdraw from what’s causing them anxiety but learn to approach and actively problem solve in order to achieve a desired outcome. Slowly over time they learn to re-engage with the tasks that they need to do or want to do such as school, social, family-related events but previously struggled to participate in because negative emotions were in the way.

So how do we use it in a mentoring / coaching setting?

We start by asking the participant if they would actually like to do the activity if anxiety wasn’t an issue for them – in most cases after seeing their peers enjoy the activity they too have a desire to participate. So we have established they want to do it but are being held back by the anxious thoughts.

We then talk about why it is important for them to be able to do the activity – in most cases they give us a few reasons why it is important for them to do the activity. We can then build on those reasons for doing it.

We then ask them about what it might feel like once the complete the activity to build a sense of achievement in their own mind, a sort of visualisation exercise of them being successful.

From there we can talk about what specific aspects of the activity cause them most concern, what evidence do they have to support their concerns, can they think of examples of how they have overcome similar issues in the past, and various other cognitive behaviour coaching type questions to support them in their own realisation that they can do the activity successfully.

Negatives to the approach

Therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) used for counselling and coaching have become mainstream in recent years and many are trying to reduce costs and enhance client engagement by making the approaches more ‘brief ‘, or quicker to apply. The risk is that brief approaches require a more active compliance by the client, or in our case the teenager, in order to get effective results (Bond & Dryden, 2002).  What we have found though is that when teenagers have positive peer pressures they are more open to engage in approaches they may otherwise not commit too, and this lends itself to more brief approaches.


Whilst it is more complex than this simple explanation as every teenager is different, we do feel that this method at the very least gives the mentor/coach an evidence supported approach when working with youth who are dealing with anxiety issues. By giving youth the tools and supporting them through their anxiety we believe it can only lead to building their self-belief in being able to overcome anxiety in other areas of their life as well.



Bond, F. W., & Dryden, W. (2002). Handbook of brief cognitive behavioural therapy. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Seltzer, L. F. Ph.D. (2008). What your anger may be hiding: Reflections on the most seductive – and addictive – of human emotions. Psychology Today. Retrieved from:

Stosny, S. Ph.D. (2013). Overcome anxiety, not fear. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: 

Weersing, V. R., et al. (2017). Brief Behavioral Therapy for Pediatric Anxiety and Depression in Primary Care: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.0429.


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