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Top 10 Truths About Therapy for Teen Depression

As much as possible, I like my potential clients to know what to expect when starting therapy.  I find it’s helpful to be clear on expectations from the get go, so there’s little chance for confusion or resentment to grow and so all parties are on the same page.  This is especially true with teens, since it’s not just the teen and the therapist who are involved, it’s also the parent, parents, or guardians. 

For people who are brand new to therapy, knowing what to expect to reduce some of the stress around starting something new and different.  And for those who’ve experienced therapy before, blogs like this will help you learn more about my style and help you feel if I’m a good fit. 

I write like I talk, so by reading this, you’ll get a sense of the way I communicate, and if what I’m saying resonates with you.  In this post, I’ll be sharing my top ten truths about therapy for teen depression.  If your teen has been through therapy before, I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree!  Here we go…

1) Progress is not linear

Going to therapy is like building a new habit.  It’s not a perfect linear process.  There can be fits and starts.  There will be days your teen doesn’t feel like going or engaging.  Things may look like they’re starting to improve and then life throws a curveball, and it can feel like a setback. 

When I’ve started something new, like let’s say a commitment to move my body every day, I give myself grace around what that means.  Some days it’s taking a walk with my dog, some days it’s doing a yoga video, and some days it’s dancing to my favorite playlist.  Similarly…

there will be some days your teens wants to dig deep into what’s going on underneath their depression, some days where they’ll stay on the surface and address the symptoms of depression, and some days when they don’t want to talk about their depression at all, because it’s exhausting to live with depression. 

Wherever they’re at on a certain day is okay.  I believe that to be true, because of truth #10 below.

2) Not every skill the therapist offers will work for your teen

If you think of therapy as a wardrobe with a lot of different clothes and accessories to try on, not every item your therapist pulls out of the closet will work for your teen.  And even if something does work for your teen, it may not work every time. 

When I’m feeling a big emotion like sadness, sometimes I need to move, sometimes I need to sleep, and sometimes I need to be creative by making art. 

What’s important is your teen’s willingness to test out different skills and experiment using them outside of sessions.  Even within a certain skill, learning to adapt it to your teen’s life will help them use it when they need it. 

I’ve never lived in a male body, but living in a female body, I know that not every large fits me the same way.  I have to try things on in order to see if it’s going to work for me.  It’s the same with skills. 

If I offer a breathing skill to your teen in session, they may choose to take it into their life for a test drive.  They may discover “4-7-8 breathing helps me go to sleep at night, but not so much when I’m getting into an escalated discussion with a parent.”  And that’s great knowledge!  Or they may decide, “4-7-8 breathing isn’t for me” and ask what else I have to offer.  Either discovery is valuable. 

What’s important is what works for your teen in their life when they need it and learning what works take discovery and practice.  

3) Think Therapy AND….

I’m not sure if this qualifies as a “truth” or more of an invitation, AND I still wanted to include it.  You may have heard me mention this before, but therapy is not a magic bullet (just like medication is not a magic bullet). 

Getting out of the depression is in the doing, and it’s the combination of things, which will help your teen move through this season. 

I like to offer the idea of therapy AND…dancing, creating a routine, art, theatre, medication, socializing, skills group, nutrition, music, yoga, or whatever your teen chooses. 

The teens who have the best “results” and are able to start to feel better faster are those who are also working on themselves outside of sessions.  This doesn’t have to be demanding or regimented.  In fact, going gentle on one’s self during this time is a big deal. 

In yoga, there’s the idea of meeting your comfortable edge.  This is a spot where you feel pushed to your limit and at the same time not so pushed you feel like giving up.  You’re experiencing a sensation and no pain. 

It’s similar when a teen is moving through depression. 

Some days doing something social will feel like too much and other days it will feel just right.  Through therapy and their own experiences your teen will learn to meet their comfortable edge as they going through this time of being, learning, and growing.

4) Some days your teen will love their therapist

Sometimes being in the therapy space feels like a place to rest. 

It may be the one time in your teen’s week where they don’t feel they have to keep on a mask or “be” any certain way. 

There are days when your teen will feel like their therapist gets them in a way no one else has, and they’ll feel a sense of connectedness they didn’t know was possible. 

They will hear the way their therapist views them, and it will hit that tender spot in their heart which may help them feel loved, understood, and hopeful.  Then again…

5) Some days your teen will never want to see their therapist again

There will be days where your teen will feel like, “this person just doesn’t get it.” 

Your teen’s therapist my push too far too soon, or they may make a mistake and say something really unattuned. 

I remember one therapy session I had with a new client where I attempted to play a game.  This teen was much cooler than what I was offering and ended up leaving the session early.  From then on, the teen would only come to sessions with a parent, and reluctantly at that. 

It was great all of us meeting together for a few sessions, while we worked on communication.  Eventually though, there was a limit to how much progress we could make, because the teen was using the parent as a way to avoid opening up. 

Eventually I asked the parent if I could meet with the teen alone, and I apologized to the teen. 

The teen seemed to accept the apology and then after that, it was like a window opened, and I was allowed to see in. 

I’m grateful to this client for sticking through that time with me, because I had a chance to repair our relationship. 

That doesn’t always happen. 

Therapists are humans who make mistakes, so if your teen comes to you after a session and doesn’t want to see the therapist again, it could be there’s something they need to work through in the relationship. 

(If your teen REALLY doesn’t like the therapist after a few sessions, it may be time to look for someone new though!)

6) Going to therapy may make your teen feel like they’re “sick” 

This is especially true if your teen has been in therapy on and off over the years, has been hospitalized, or is taking medication. 

Therapy can be another reminder to a teen that they have a different experience of life than many of their peers. 

I’ve seen instances where a teen wants to focus more on the future and leave past experiences behind or they may not be in a spot where they want to invest energy and emotional resources into therapy.  I get it. 

They may have thoughts of “I wish I could go do X with my friends, but instead I have to go to therapy.  This sucks!” 

Those are really common feelings.  Acknowledging this and being open about it can be helpful.  

7) Your teen won’t always be able to recognize their own growth (and you might not either)

When your teen is in the middle of their experience, it can be hard to see progress. 

It’s easy to forget where they started and how the things they’re doing today were things they couldn’t even dream of at the start of therapy. 

That’s why it’s so important to have regular feedback with your teen’s therapist. 

It’s important to celebrate growth along the way and for the opportunity to hear from someone on the outside (your teen’s therapist) what they are seeing, because it can be a different perspective from yours or your teen’s.

8) Your teen will know when they’re ready to end therapy

This one may be controversial.  I can already hear parents saying, “you don’t know my teen.  They NEED therapy, and they don’t want to go.”  Fair, maybe that’s true.  And at the same time…

do you think you can will your teen into changing? 

It’s a question to consider. 

I heard something recently about how children learn what they need from their parents by age thirteen.  After that it’s up to parents to listen to teens, to hear how they think, what they care about, and what’s important to them.  You may or may not agree, but ultimately, the role of a parent of a teen is to support them as they develop their own wise owl part of the brain, pre-frontal cortex, and learn to make their own choices. 

How will they be able to do this, if you’re making all the choices for them? 

If your child is engaging in self-harm behaviors or suicidal, the choice to quit therapy may not be up to them immediately, it’s true. 

And, if they’ve been doing the work; they have a trusting relationship with a therapist, and the teen works through the process of ending therapy in sessions, then give them the opportunity to make this decision for themselves. 

And if you aren’t in therapy, I highly encourage it.  It’s helpful to have your own experience of therapy, so you know what your teen may be going through.

9) Getting to therapy will feel like the only thing your teen can do on certain days

Therapy is a lot, especially when someone is experiencing symptoms of depression.  It is emotionally, mentally, and physically taxing.  It can feel draining and change is hard.  (That’s why so many adults avoid it for so long!!) 

If your child is recently out of a hospital stay, therapy becomes their job.  They may be in both individual and group therapy multiple times a week. 

They are likely processing emotions they’ve had for a long time, which have been stuck inside them. 

They’re building relationships with others and learning new things. 

They are often having to unlearn things which have been helpful to them in the past and which are no longer helpful (i.e. cutting, use of substances, perfectionism, or other behaviors). 

If you don’t know what it’s like to be in therapy, imagine being plopped into a foreign country where you don’t know the language, the people, or the culture and figuring out how to survive. 

That’s what therapy can feel like when you’re depressed. 

So offer your teen grace. 

Make their therapy day a little easier:  Get them a treat, bring a water bottle, forget about chores, and get into therapy yourself, so you can see what it’s like.    

10) Change will happen if your teen keeps showing up

I really believe this to be true.  It may not be obvious at first or even for a while after ending therapy. 

Slowly though, things will start to change for your teen. 

They’ll build awareness around their automatic negative thoughts. 

They’ll catch themselves using a skill they learned in therapy and it works for them. 

They’ll start to call you out on your behavior. 

Showing up is a big deal, and it makes a difference.

Those are my top 10 truths of therapy for teens with depression. 

If you’re a parent or teen who has already had the experience of therapy, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment below.  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Let me know! 

If you’re just starting your journey of finding a right fit teen therapist for you teen struggling with depression, connect with me today. 

I help unhappy, withdrawn teens find joy and confidence from within. 

Call me for a FREE 15-minute consultation at 737-808-4888 or send me a message using the secure contact form.  Therapy when your teen is depressed is hard…and so worth it.  


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