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7 Common Questions About Teen Therapy


Most parents don’t wake up one day and decide their teen needs therapy.  Therapy becomes an option in parents’ mind when their teen is dealing with something so overwhelming, the parent doesn’t know how to help.  Oftentimes, things that worked previously to help your child feel better, things like talking with a parent, doing something distracting, or time, aren’t working this time now that they’re a teen. 

It can feel helpless to watch your teen struggle and not know how to help. 

They may be pushing you away, keeping you at arms length, and withdrawing.  By the time parents find this website, they’ve usually talked to friends, their own parents, pediatricians, or school staff.  Looking into therapy for the first time can be overwhelming.  Here are some common questions parents have when they start exploring whether therapy is the right option for their teen.

1) What exactly is therapy?

This is a great question.  In the past, during the era of Freud, therapy was viewed as a mystical process shrouded in secrecy.  Fortunately for us, that’s not the case today.  Today, there’s more than one type of therapy, and therapists are much more comfortable bringing their whole, human selves into their work, by showing their personality, working in a style which best benefits their particular client, and being transparent about the fact that we are human too and have struggles of our own. 

Therapy does look different for everyone, at the same time there are some key elements, which make therapy, therapy, also referred to as counseling or psychotherapy, depending on who’s saying the word and what area of the country you’re in. 

At its fundamental level, therapy is a confidential relationship with another person, who’s trained in helping people. 

Often therapy centers around some struggle the client (your teen) is having, such as depression, anxiety, or transitional life stressors.  While there are as many ways to “do” therapy as there are therapists, typically through this relationship, your teen will be exploring what’s going on inside their mind and body and how this impacts their behavior, relationships, and experiences.          

2) Tell me about confidentiality.

Not so much a question as a general curiosity about what it means when therapist say, there’s “confidentiality” in the relationship.  Confidentiality is just a fancy word for privacy.  When your teen goes to see a therapist, they (and you) can be assured their private concerns and struggles will not be blasted on social media (like it might if your teen were talking to peers) or brought up over the Thanksgiving table (like sometimes happens when we talk to family or friends). 

It means, what’s said in therapy stays with the therapist, except in a few instances, where therapist are bound by law to break the privacy agreement.  The exceptions mainly center around safety issues, specifically if your teen is going to hurt themselves or someone else, if your teen reports they have been the victim of abuse or neglect, or another child around them has been the victim of abuse or neglect, and with teens, it’s important to know parents are able to access their mental health records as long as they’re under the age of eighteen.  I will go over these limits during the first therapy session and will remind your teen along the way of these limits during the course of our time together.  I also have the limits to confidentiality posted in my office as a reminder. 

If I want consult with another professional or person about your teen’s care, I will talk with you both about it first and then have you sign what’s called a “release of information” which covers, who I can speak to and what I can speak to them about.  This can be helpful in situations where your teen is taking prescribed medication, so I can collaborate with their psychiatrist or if your teen is struggling at school, and it would be helpful to communicate with the school counselor. 

Other than the reasons listed about and a couple others (instances of elder/dependent adult abuse or a court order), your teen’s information shared in therapy is kept private.  

3) What are you supposed to do in therapy?

While there are different forms of therapy now, like text therapy or asynchronous therapy (where the therapist and client are not communicating in real time), for the purposes of this question, I’ll be talking about therapy live and in person or via video. 

Therapy can be difficult, because often there’s nothing to “do” per se.  It’s more about being present in the moment and experiencing the therapeutic relationship. 

It can be helpful to think about what you want as the parent and help your teen think about what they want.  Do they want to feel more hopeful or calm?  If therapy did exactly what you and your teen wanted, how would you know?  Answering those questions can shape the process when you’re first starting out. 

In therapy, there’s a lot of being with your body and mind where you’re at today, and learning how to accept all of your experiences.  Therapy is about putting language to big emotions and learning how to move through those big emotions with another person, your therapist, walking alongside you. 

When I work with teens, I often start with a check-in, then ask if anything’s bothering them, or if anything’s changed since the last time I saw them.  We may play a game, learn a skill, or talk about something that’s going on.  Each session looks different. 

The only thing to really do  in therapy is show up.  

4) How long will it take?

The length of time teens come to therapy varies, but typically they see me about six months.  This usually allows them time and space to work through whatever the immediate pressing concern was that brought them into therapy and learn how to practice the skills they need to help them in the future. 

Some teens come for a shorter amount of time, for instance if they’re a student athlete who experienced an injury, they may come while their body is healing to process the big emotions that come up when you’re injured and can’t participate in sports and the social activities they want.  Other teens stay in therapy longer, for instance if they’re exploring gender identity or struggling with suicidal thoughts, and they need more support. 

The teen years can be turbulent, because after the zero to three years, adolescence is the biggest growth development in a human’s life. 

They’re experiencing changing bodies, romantic relationships, an increase in risk-taking, and other normal aspects of development.  Layer on the pressures of social media, academics, and living through a global pandemic, the levels of anxiety and depression are unprecedented. 

What’s great about developing a relationship with a therapist in your child’s tween and early teen years, is they can always come back for support. 

Let’s say they come for six months in seventh grade due to being bullied at school.  They learn ways to cope and respond, start to feel better, and transition to eighth grade where they’re not having any issues.  Then when they make the transition to high school, they start struggling with insecurity and depression again.  They can come back and already have a relationship developed with me, making it easier to jump right back in to sessions.    

5) How do I know if my teen needs therapy?

This could be a whole blog post in and of itself, but to keep it short, here are a few indicators your teen needs therapy: self-harm, suicidal thoughts, difficulty sleeping, uncontrollable crying, using drugs or alcohol more than experimentally, or change in behavior (talkative teen starts being quiet, social teen starts isolating). 

It’s important to go to your teen’s doctor first to rule out any physical issue.  Different types of diseases or illnesses can impact mood and mental health, and a therapist won’t be able to help for example, if your child’s fatigue is from mononucleosis and not depression.   

6) Is the parent involved in therapy?

Yes!  You are with your teen the most, so your involvement and support is critical for your teen’s positive experience in therapy.  You will likely be the first one reaching out for services, and you’ll be required to participate in the first session when we go over practice policies and how therapy works.  Every six weeks, I’ll reach out to you to check in for fifteen minutes at the beginning or end of your teen’s session to see what you’re noticing about their mood and behavior since starting therapy. 

There may be times when we schedule a separate parent consultation where you come to a session without your teen to process what’s going on and learn skills to support you in responding to your teen’s needs.  In addition, there may be times when we do a family session with you and your teen to practice communication skills between the two of you or so your teen can practice asking for help or coaching you on how to support them with whatever they’re going through. 

You are also key in supporting your teen in participating in therapy consistently and providing transportation to sessions for younger teens.     

7) Where do I start?

Teens come to therapy in a variety of ways.  There are many ways to choose a great therapist for your teen, and I’ll tell you how to get started here. 

Talk to people you know and trust.  It can be vulnerable to admit your teen needs therapy.  While therapy is so much more common in today’s world, and people are now recognizing the importance of mental health and wellbeing, as a parent, there can be a sense of “did I do something wrong?” or feeling embarrassed or ashamed your teen needs help.  Some parents may not be comfortable sharing details of what’s going on with their teen, but you can keep it simple by asking the people you know, “my teen’s having a hard time, do you know anyone in town they might be able to talk to?” 

Details aren’t really necessary if you’re just trying to get names of therapists.  When you call the therapists for the first time ask them questions, you can give more details.  Or if you’re in a safe space, like in therapy yourself or talking to your teen’s doctor, you can describe more about what’s going on and what kind of help you’re looking for. 

Another option is to do a Google Search.  Type in your area and what type of help you’re looking for i.e. “teen therapy for depression near me.”  You’ll be able to do some research on different therapist’s websites, get a feel for their style, and decide who you want to contact.

If your teen has been unhappy and withdrawn for more than two weeks, and you feel like you’re ready to reach out for help from a therapist, who can support them in developing confidence and joy from within, call me for a FREE 15-minute consultation 737-808-4888 or fill out the secure contact form, and I’ll contact you.  


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