Teen Psychotic Disorder Treatment

Teens who have episodes of varying types of psychotic behavior are often diagnosed as having a “subtype" of psychotic disorder. These subtypes each have their own characteristics, but share a single common symptom: a marked disconnect from reality. This disconnect causes a person to become irrational and unable to separate their imagined events from the truth of what is happening around them.

The first episode of psychosis, also known as a psychotic break, generally happens before the age of 25. In fact, it is far more common for initial symptoms to show themselves in the later teen years or within the early 20s.

What Does Teen Psychotic Disorder Look Like

  • Teens struggling with a psychotic disorder frequently behave oddly in ways that clearly show they are detached from reality.
  • A teen with a psychotic disorder may hear or see things that don’t exist. They may also react to stimuli not actually present (like the feeling bugs crawling on their skin etc).
  • Some psychotic episodes are short and intermittent, while others are more frequent or persistent.
  • It’s important to note that many things can cause a psychotic break, including illnesses, injuries, or mental health struggles. Some teens later develop signs of schizophrenia, signaling that their psychosis may be related to a secondary disorder.

Signs of Teen Psychotic Disorder

Speech difficulties

Confusion or inattentiveness

Balance issues

Involuntary muscle contractions

Poor overall personal hygiene

Inability to self-soothe

Unusual thought patterns

Awkward social skills

Isolation and withdrawal

Mood swings and shifts

Trouble staying mentally “present”

Different Types of Teen Psychotic Disorder

Brief Psychotic Disorder - This form of psychotic disorder comes on suddenly and quickly. In most cases, these breaks last less than a month and only require two to three weeks of recovery time. Brief Psychotic Disorder is most common after a traumatic event.

Delusional Disorder - Teens with this form of psychotic disorder remain focused on a singular delusion. While they seem similar, delusions are not the same as psychosis. With psychosis, teens lose their grasp on reality, seeing and hearing things that don’t exist, impacting them on a sensory level. Delusions are based on emotion, characterized by a teen having a sincere belief that something unrealistic is true. They may believe a celebrity is in love with them or that someone is out to get them personally.

Shared Psychotic Disorder - This disorder occurs when two people share a single delusion. They are usually very close family or friends with a strong relationship, but one person tends to be more dominant and have more significant signs of an illness than the other, who often will only share the delusion itself.

Schizophrenia - Schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder are not the same thing. But patients with schizophrenia do struggle with delusions and hallucinations, often to the point where they are not able to function normally on a daily basis. Teens with schizophrenia often distrust those trying to help them, causing them to avoid treatment. Schizophrenia is considered to be just one part of the psychotic disorder spectrum.

Schizoaffective Disorder - Teens with this disorder have regular and persistent mood fluctuations and often break from reality. This disorder often appears to be a mixture of schizophrenia and depression or another mood disorder.

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Teen Psychotic Disorder Treatment | Paradigm San Francisco

What Causes Teen Psychotic Disorder?

Anything that causes your teen to view the world in a distorted manner or break from reality is considered psychosis. Psychosis itself can be a diagnosable disorder, but it is also a symptom of many other mental and physical illnesses. It’s important to look at each teen as a unique situation, rather than attempting to force them into a textbook definition of any disorder.

Physical Illness - Injuries and illnesses, including brain tumors or concussions, can cause damage to the brain that leads to psychotic symptoms. These symptoms may be temporary and go away on their own, or they may disappear after your teen receives medical treatment.

Family History - Genetics plays a large role in how likely it is for your teen to develop a psychotic disorder, no matter where on the spectrum the psychosis falls. The good news is that genetics are not a guarantee that your teen will become ill. Scientists do not yet understand why genetics increases the risk of psychotic disorders.

Substance Use - The majority of illicit drugs (including marijuana and alcohol) cause some sort of psychoactive response in the brain.They temporarily change the way the brain functions and perceives reality. Long-term use can become increasingly harmful, leading to symptoms of psychosis – especially in the case of certain stimulant drugs.

Psychosis by Proxy - While this is incredibly rare, there is documentation and research supporting that psychosis by proxy can happen. It usually manifests as a dominant partner with a strong psychotic disorder. Somehow, that partner convinces their partner or loved one that the delusions they are experiencing are real.


of the global population struggles with a psychotic disorder


teens and young adults suffer their first psychotic break each year


people in the United States live with schizophrenia

How Can I Help My Teen with Psychotic Disorder?

Establish and maintain trust - Teens need to know who they can trust, especially when struggling with delusions and other psychotic symptoms. Your teen truly believes their perceptions are true and correct. You should reassure your teen that you are there for them and let them know you understand what they are going through. It’s best not to use any terminology that makes it seem as though you are making fun of the disorder or alienating them because of their symptoms. In some cases, this may mean refraining from arguing against the psychosis or a perceived delusion.

Learn your teen’s triggers - Some teens slip into psychotic breaks after very specific triggers. Keep track of the times you see your teen start to have an episode. Were they having a specific conversation or facing something that makes them uncomfortable? Identifying triggers is incredibly helpful, especially during recovery, because it empowers learning how to avoid them and better cope with them.

Encourage your teen to challenge their own beliefs - Many treatment plans for psychotic disorders include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT teaches your teen to question their own irrational thoughts and replace negative thoughts with positive and constructive thinking patterns. It also gives your teen much-needed tools to better see the difference between the rational and the irrational. Your teen will need your support in remembering to challenge these thoughts once they return home from treatment.

What Types of Teen Psychotic Disorder Treatment Are Available?

How we treat a psychotic disorder in a teenager (or in any individual), depends a lot on the person. We need to keep the exact nature of the disorder as well as their unique symptoms and circumstances in mind. Treatment will also depend a lot on their willingness to accept help; if they are willing, they will progress much faster.

Most teens who do receive teen psychotic disorder treatment start with antipsychotic drugs to control their delusions. If the disorder is severe enough, a teen may need to start with therapy to build up enough trust to even accept the medications.


Seroquel, Zyprexa, Risperdal, and Clozaril are all commonly prescribed psychotic disorder medication. In mild cases, these medicines are an effective but temporary solution that reduces symptoms during an episode.

Teens who experience severe episodes, or chronic breaks, may need to stay on medications to help them with long-term living goals. This is especially true for teens who are diagnosed with schizoaffective disorders, although longer-term medications may differ from the medications mentioned here. It is important to take measures to control depression and the possibility of suicidal ideations.

Talk Therapy

Individual, family, and group talk therapy sessions are all a part of the teen psychotic disorder treatment plan. These sessions help teens and their family members or loved ones learn to recognize delusions and hallucinations. This goes a long way in protecting everyone from potential harm.

At Paradigm, teens experience talk therapy in a safe environment where they can work closely with their therapists. They will learn to better recognize their own irrational thinking patterns while learning effective techniques to overcome them.

Alternative Therapies

Stress is common in the teen years; in some cases, it is a major contributing factor in a teen’s psychotic breaks. Your teen will learn new ways to manage day-to-day stress at Paradigm. They’ll also be given tools that help them recognize when acute stressors have the possibility of triggering symptoms.

While yoga, massage, acupuncture, and exercise are excellent adjuncts to therapy, the reality is that most teens must eventually try new modalities. At the end of the day, the most effective treatment methods are the ones your teen personally finds helpful.

Teen Psychotic Disorder Treatment at Paradigm San Francisco

We know that every teen visiting Paradigm San Francisco is unique. That’s why we work hard to treat each person with care, compassion, and a holistic approach. We’ll help your teen analyze their life and situation while walking the treatment path with them, step by step. The goal is to empower them to make necessary changes and move forward in a positive manner. Every single teen in our program receives individualized attention.

A Safe Environment

Each of our Paradigm San Francisco locations is unique, but every single one has one goal in mind --- offering a safe, healing environment. Teen psychotic disorder treatment programs aren’t usually very long, placing emphasis on helping teens continue treatment at home. We also work hard to help their families learn to live with their loved one’s diagnosis.

A Team Approach

Each of our programs consists of a very small group of teens, many with different treatment methods and goals. Individual therapies, group sessions, and alternative techniques allow for unique programs for each teen without isolating them. They’ll have the chance to meet others struggling with similar issues, whether it’s the same disorder or peer and school problems.

“ My son went to this program. It was INCREDIBLE!!! We were able to get him on track with communicating better and teaching him that drugs are not part of his future. He feels more and more empowered each time he says NO! His communication skills with our family has improved greatly. We appreciate knowing we can always go to Paradigm for help if needed! Their family support is top notch. Working the program with your child is the best way to heal the pain and miscommunication. I personally feel they deserve higher than 5 stars! “

– Wendy M.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Psychotic Disorder

How is schizophrenia diagnosed?

There are a lot of factors that contribute to the onset of schizophrenia. You may notice your teen becomes withdrawn or that their speech patterns become suddenly disorganized. Most teens are monitored for a full month before a formal diagnosis is made. Doctors and therapists will look for hallucinations, delusions, catatonic states, and other symptoms. Teens who have converging voices or who have clear behavior patterns are are a little easier to diagnose.

What if I’ve only had one hallucination or delusion? Do I really need teen psychotic disorder treatment?

There is nothing wrong with getting a formal diagnosis. While some people only ever have one psychotic break, others may find it’s a warning sign for the future. Healthcare professionals can help you to assess your risks so that you can receive monitoring and early treatment.

Even if it only happens once, the fact that you had a psychotic break is a sign that something is going on. Your risk of hurting yourself or developing other symptoms is a lot higher. It’s best not to wait to seek treatment, especially since it is easier to seek treatment when you are consciously aware that you have a problem.

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