Is your teen having trouble in school or socially? Is he on an emotional roller coaster, acting out, or troubled in a way that you, as a concerned parent, can’t address? Parents can be good at many things, but sometimes even the best parents need outside help. In many cases, a therapist can provide that help.
Helpful Hint #1
In choosing a therapist and throughout the process, keep a positive attitude so your teen can receive the full benefit of therapy. Be her advocate. Therapy can help your teen to learn about himself and his relationships with others; to develop lifelong strengths and coping skills; and to increase the self-awareness necessary for him to make crucial changes. Be aware, however, that not all therapists are alike. In fact, there are as many types of therapists as there are reasons to enter therapy. So before you try to find the right one for your teen, you’ll need some idea of what you’re trying to accomplish. From there, identifying a therapist is a matter of finding someone who understands the issue and is a good fit for your teen’s personality.
Your primary doctor or school may be able to recommend therapists. Talk to friends who have brought their teens to counseling. But be aware that there are different types of therapists who offer different kinds of services. Also, a call to your insurance company is critical to verify that your insurance covers what you need.
Helpful Hint #2
Understand the differences among the types of therapists who can best counsel teens. If you think or your doctor thinks your teen might need medication, find an adolescent psychiatrist to determine need. These psychiatrists often have long wait times for first appointments, so don’t delay.
But be cautious. If the psychiatrist is quick to prescribe without an in-depth interview, get a second opinion. Many psychotropic drugs can have serious side effects. Also, medication can mask symptoms that should be dealt with in therapy.
You may also want to see a therapist in conjunction with a psychiatrist, as the latter generally don’t do counseling; they’re more focused on the patient’s adjustment to the medication.
Helpful Hint #3
If therapy is indicated, you and your teen should agree on what the problem is and what the goal of therapy will be. If the problem is specific, you may want to see a psychologist or social worker who specializes in that area. Be explicit. When you call to make an appointment, be sure the therapist is comfortable and experienced in working with your teen’s issue.
Get your teen involved in the selection process. Karen Kent, LCSW, of Windsor Holistic Health Services in Plainsboro, NJ, says, “It’s best for parents and teens to be equally involved. I recommend interviewing a few therapists with your child so your teen can feel safe and comfortable and possibly even enjoy the first meeting.”
Sometimes a problem—divorce, death, or substance abuse, for example—can affect the whole family. When that’s the case, the broader reach of family therapy might be indicated. Some teens also do well in group therapy, or a support group, where they can relate to and learn from other teens experiencing similar problems. These groups are most popular for teens who are uncomfortable talking one on one with an adult.
Where should your teen go for therapy? Ask him. Many teens say they’re not comfortable seeing a school counselor for fear their issues won’t be held in confidence or might be used against them. Although this may seem unlikely, confidentiality is a huge issue for teens. For therapy to be effective, teens must feel safe and secure. Where this isn’t the case, therapy will waste everyone’s time and your money.
Helpful Hint #4
Don’t feel you have to stick with a therapist if the fit isn’t right. Traditionally, therapy consists of a client seeing a therapist individually. With a teen, a parent potentially checks in after each session. We found this check to be important when we took our adolescent daughter to therapy. When we met with the therapist, we realized there was confusion about the goals of the therapy. The therapist had assumed my daughter had a problem communicating with us (as many teens do with their parents) and was forcing this issue on her. But my daughter was trying to be nice; she didn’t want to hurt the therapist’s feelings, simply agreeing with whatever he said. When we spoke about it afterward, I realized we had to shop around further to find a therapist who was the right fit for our teen.
Helpful Hint #5
The most important part of therapy is the outcome. How does your teen feel about going? Is she getting anything out of it? Is she more comfortable with a male or female therapist? Is the therapist objective enough to hear all your teen has to say without being judgmental? As a parent, your role is a component of your teen’s therapy. Your teenager will need your love and support throughout the process. Remember that no amount of therapy can replace the unconditional love only you as a parent can provide.
Sites & Sources
- Psychology Today’s Directory of Adolescent Therapists
- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry’s advice on mental health insurance
- General Information and therapist locator.
Bookie McDonough is a licensed social worker with experience in middle and high schools. Andy McDonough is a former public school educator, education consultant, and freelance writer. They live in New Jersey and are raising two teenagers.