How mentors can supplement adolescent psychotherapy

So You Want to Be a Mentor? Food for Thought from a Clinician’s Casebook

How mentors can supplement adolescent psychotherapy - The Chronicle of Evidence-Based MentoringEditor’s Note:  Rather than simply considering how research on psychotherapy can inform our understanding of youth mentoring, in this week’s article we offer some food for thought for how mentoring may complement psychotherapeutic interventions and highlights some of the distinctions between these two forms of potentially growth-promoting relationships.

Leader, E. (2000). So You Want to Be a Mentor? Food for Thought from a Clinician’s Casebook. Journal of Child and Adolescent Group Therapy10(2), 119-124.

Summarized by University of Massachusetts at Boston Clinical Psychology Student Max Wu

Edited by Renee Spencer.


In this article, Leader discusses the addition of a mentor to her work with an adolescent in a group therapy setting. She explores the circumstances under which an “outside” mentor figure may be helpful. A mentor can provide guidance, support, and challenge at appropriate moments to encourage growth, as a therapist does. Consequently, a mentor may actually serve as a role model, surrogate parent, friend, and counselor for an adolescent. An outside mentor may be particularly useful because he or she has experienced some of the adolescent’s difficulties firsthand, and therefore can provide empathy and hope for the adolescent.

Leader cites a case example of an adolescent, Rose, who is entrenched in gang activities. Leader brings in an outside mentor who was similarly involved in gang activities, went to prison, and turned her life around, now mentoring teen gang members. The outside mentor spoke about the loss of freedom she experienced in prison, and the pain of now trying to lure her daughter away from gang-affiliated friends.

Rose identified with the mentor in a very different way than she did with Leader, her therapist, and as her mentor displayed great strength in overcoming her past, Rose felt inspired to try to emulate her mentor. She served as a panelist as a violence prevention training, a life-changing experience that gave her confidence in her ability to articulate in front of others, as well as self-worth. She decided to serve as a peer educator, speaking to other teens about the dangers of gang life.


Leader’s thoughtful reflection on her work with this one youth raises many more questions than it answers but does suggest some ways that adding a mentorship component to adolescent therapy may be beneficial, particularly when working with high-risk youth. Leader is clear that mentoring should not be a substitute for the therapy relationship, and that considering whether, when and how to introduce an outside mentoring relationship into the psychotherapeutic process raises complex issues that need to be carefully addressed. However, she also conveys how mentors can play a distinct kind of role in encouraging adolescents to learn from experiences and motivating them to overcome difficulties, particularly if the mentors have faced similar struggles in their own lives.