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What to Do When Your Teen’s Therapist Stinks

You finally got your teen to go to therapy. 

You did the research. 

You figured out how to make it work financially and logistically. 

You knew it could take awhile.  Maybe it takes time for your teen to warm up. 

Maybe you “volun-told” your teen to do therapy. 

Maybe you weren’t sure what to expect. 

You know connections take time and therapy is new for your teen. 

You’ve been patient. 

You don’t really know what happens in session, because your teen is pretty tight-lipped, and you want to give them the space they need. 

Now though, they may have been feigning illness to get out of sessions.  They may be dragging their feet every time you remind them of their appointment.  Or maybe they’ve even outright talked to you about quitting. 

So how do you know if it’s time to throw in the towel and do something else for awhile? 

Or, what if, maybe, there’s something else going on? 

What if your teen’s therapist just stinks at connecting with your teen? 

This article isn’t here to bash other therapists.  It’s here to speak the truth about therapy.  All therapists will stink at one point or another.  I know I have.  I’m not the best fit for every Client and not every Client is the right fit for me.  The more therapists are willing to acknowledge that, the faster healing can happen. 

Outside of not being the right or best fit, there are definitely situations where a therapist may not be competent in their work or engaging in unethical behavior.  If there are any red flags, we’ll talk about that at the end.  For the most part though, I want to focus on the times when the therapist stinks specifically when working with your teen.  

In my first session with teens and their caregivers, I talk about the important things in therapy, like when I have to break confidentiality, the risks and benefits of therapy, and what to expect.  I also talk about the need to check in over time to make sure that treatment is still progressing in a way that feels helpful to all parties (teen, caregiver, and therapist).  That’s super important.  I communicate that there’s no guarantee of success in therapy. 

That being said, the relationship with the therapist is one of the most important things that impact the course of treatment and can support “success.”  The reason being, at its root, therapy is about a connection and relationship between people.  It’s not always unicorns and rainbows though. 

But how do you know if it’s awkward or hard, because sometimes therapy is like that or if you’re teen is with a wrong-fit therapist?  

Let’s break down a few reasons why your teen’s therapist may stink and then talk about what to do about it. 

1) The therapist is just a wrong fit

A good teen therapist will be able to speak clearly about who and how they help. 

It’s not always clear when first talking to a Client, if I’ll be able to help them.  I do my best to determine in the free initial phone call with caregiver and teen, if my skills, experience, and personality are the right fit for a potential Client. 

That being said, it’s not always crystal clear up front.  Sometimes it’s like walking through mist!  I can see glimmers at a time and have to piece things together.  That’s what your teen is doing too. 

Maybe in the first session and definitely by session three, when we spend more time together, it turns out we’re like oil and water. 

At the end of the day, maybe it’s just that this person isn’t a good fit for your teen. 

Maybe your teen doesn’t feel understood. 

Maybe the Therapist treats them like they’re eight instead of fourteen. 

Maybe the Therapist forgets what the teen tells them and they end up repeating themselves often (this is a major pet peeve of teens’). 

Maybe the Therapist only offers virtual sessions, and your teen would prefer in-person sessions. 

Whatever the reason, your teen (and you) have every right to change your mind and find another therapist. 

What to do:

Encourage your teen to use their voice. 

I’m big on using therapy as a vehicle to practice skills that are hard.  Assertive communication is one of the hardest skills for many of us.  It’s totally okay for a teen to say, “this isn’t working for me” or “I don’t like doing XYZ in session.” 

I’ve had teens tell me I’m not giving them enough feedback or they don’t want to practice breathing exercises.  And I look at that as a huge win. 

Not only have they practiced assertive communication, they’ve expressed a need and had it met, whether that’s changing something up in session or supporting them to get connected to someone who is a better fit. 

And they learned it’s okay to express themself. 

How cool.  

 2) They therapist doesn’t know what they’re doing

It could be that as treatment progresses, a clinical issue may come up that a therapist is not trained in and may not know how to respond to effectively. 

I’m hoping it’s not a case of false advertising (where a therapist said they were trained in something but really weren’t), which could be unethical or even illegal. 

Maybe the therapist genuinely thought they could help and as it turned out, they couldn’t. 

At the end of the day, if your teen does not feel like they’re getting the help they need, whatever’s going on isn’t working, and it may be time to make a change.  

What to do:

Be honest. 

You have the right to express your concerns and say, “This issue/event has happened or come to light since my teen started treatment.  Is that something you feel confident in being able to treat?” or “How do you plan to approach this?”  See what they say. 

A good teen therapist will be open and vulnerable about their limits, because at the end of the day they want what’s best for your teen just like you do. 

It may be something they can learn more about, can consult with an expert on, or refer your teen to someone who is more specialized in the issue, but any way you look at it, you and your teen deserve to know.

3) The therapist behaves unprofessionally 

Therapists are human too, so there may be days or times when they’re going through something that impacts their work (i.e. showing up a few minutes late to a session or not responding in a timely manner to a call or email). 

If the behavior is habitual (chronically late, cancels sessions without notice, or they don’t respond when you contact them), it may be time to decide if the therapist is the right fit for your teen.

What to do: 

Just like I would tell a teen who is facing a conflict, this may be an opportunity to determine your own boundaries. 

Our boundaries help us teach other people how to treat us. 

You could practice assertive communication skills here and be clear about what’s okay and not okay for you.  It may sound like this: “It’s okay to be late every now and again to my teen’s session.  It’s not okay to start sessions fifteen minutes late every week.” 

I hope you don’t have to have this conversation with a Therapist, I really do. 

And, unfortunately, it may come up. 

You may get an opportunity to learn and grow through this relationship, just not in the ways you thought. 

Ultimately, you and your teen will have to determine the limit for what you want to deal with and decide when enough is enough.

5) The therapist does something unethical

In this day and age, it is easier than ever to behave in unethical ways. 

I want to say this really loudly, most therapists do NOT behave unethically. 

Most therapist work really heard to consider their Clients, their role, and how to provide the most effective and helpful service possible. 

However, just like in any profession, there could be unethical behavior going on, and your teen deserves to have a therapist who behaves ethically inside and outside the therapy room. 

Here are some ways I’ve heard of therapists behaving unethically, to name a few: posting identifying information online about a Client, creating a dual relationship with a Client or their caregiver (friending them online or hiring them to do work for them), providing services with an invalid/expired license, or taking advantage of a vulnerable teen. 

I hope this is not something you ever experience when working with a Therapist.  At the same time, I know it can happen, and I want you to be prepared.  

What to do:

If something of this nature is going or happens while your teen is in therapy, depending on the severity of the behavior, know that each Therapist is governed by their state licensing board. 

No matter their license (LCSW, LMFT, LPC, etc.) there’s an entity at the state level that is available to receive complaints.  In Texas, it’s the Behavioral Health Executive Council.  On that website, you can check a Therapist’s license information.  You can also find information about how to submit a complaint about a Therapist’s behavior. 

It may be uncomfortable to have this type of situation come up. 

You may want to pull your teen from treatment and never talk about it again.  I understand. 

At the same time, if this type of behavior is happening, it may be important to make sure it’s reported to the appropriate authority, so it doesn’t happen again in the future. 

And if something like this happens, I encourage you to find some kind of support for yourself and your teen to process what happened and how it impacted you.    

In Conclusion

All in all, like any relationship you value, the therapy relationship takes work. 

It requires using your voice to get your needs met. 

Sometimes that can happen within the relationship you already have and sometimes it means trusting your teen to know that someone else would be a better fit and look at what it would take to find a new provider. 

Either way, your teen deserves the best, right-fit therapist when they’re in treatment.   

If your teen is currently seeing a therapist that just isn’t the right fit, and they want to make a change, make sure to share power with them and talk them through the decision first. 

If both of you are on the same page, and you’re looking for a right-fit therapist,  call me at (737) 808-4888 for a FREE 15 minute consultation or fill out this secure form to connect with me online.

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