Adolescence is a unique and complex time, and sometimes, teenagers need extra support to navigate the twists and turns of this crucial period. It is a developmental period where there’s a growing rate of mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, and stress. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health (2021) indicates that 49.5 percent of teenagers have experienced a mental health disorder at some stage in their lives. The pressures of academic performance, social expectations, and the impact of social media contribute to this rise. As a parent, you play a vital role in guiding your teen towards resources that can help them flourish. I’ll explore what teenagers should expect in therapy, providing you with insights to support your teen through this process.
The First Step: Initiating the Conversation About Therapy for Teens
Initiating a conversation about therapy with your teenager may feel like navigating a delicate needle. The idea of therapy for teens can be intimidating for many teens, but demystifying the process can ease their apprehensions. Approaching the topic with sensitivity and open communication paves the way for a positive conversation. Begin by expressing concern for their well-being, emphasizing that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Here’s what typically happens behind closed doors:
Establishing Trust and Connection
The first sessions are about building a trusting relationship between the therapist and your teen. The therapist will create a safe space for your teenager to express themselves without fear of judgment. Therapists will help your teens explore their thoughts and feelings. This may include talking, journaling, art, or other expressive methods, depending on what works best for your child.
Goal and Coping Strategies Learned in Therapy for Teens
In therapy, setting achievable goals is a fundamental aspect of therapy. The therapist and your teen work together to define targets that match their needs—whether it’s easing stress, improving their relationships with peers or family members, or building resilience in the face of adversity. Therapists will introduce a plan and strategies to help attain their goal. Some therapists, like those at the Bain Health and Wellness Center, may offer to track their progress. Using progress monitoring helps increase the effectiveness of therapy sessions and review the progress made throughout treatment to get the most out of therapy (Jensen-Doss, et al., 2018).
Parental Involvement in Therapy for Teens
While the sessions are confidential, therapists often involve parents to some extent. This collaboration ensures a holistic approach to supporting the teen’s mental health, fostering communication and understanding within the family.
Addressing Concerns: Common Teenager Worries About Therapy for Teens
Understanding your teen’s concerns about therapy is crucial for providing reassurance. Common worries include:
- Fear of Judgment – Teens may worry that the therapist will judge them. Assure them that therapists are trained to provide a non-judgmental and supportive environment.
- Lack of Control – Feeling forced into therapy can create resistance. Discuss the process openly and involve your teen in the decision-making, empowering them to take control of their mental health journey. For teens hesitant about therapy, I encourage parents to suggest attending three sessions to assess their comfort with the process. These initial sessions provide enough time for teens to start feeling at ease and make the commitment to seeking therapy seem less overwhelming. After the three sessions, the therapist can check in with the teens to gather their impressions of therapy and thoughts about continuing.
- Confidentiality Concerns – Privacy is a major concern for teenagers. Therapists will review confidentiality clauses with teens and parents at the beginning of therapy to address any concerns and ensure a clear understanding of the boundaries. The therapist will emphasize that they will only breach confidentiality in situations where the teen’s safety is at risk.
Your Role as a Supportive Parent: Navigating the Journey of Therapy For Teens Together
Encourage Open Communication
Create a space for open communication. Encourage your teen to openly share their thoughts and feelings about therapy, addressing any concerns they may have.
Change takes time, and therapy is a process. Be patient and recognize that progress may be gradual. Celebrate the small victories along the way.
Attend Family Sessions
If invited by the therapist, consider participating in family sessions. These sessions offer a valuable opportunity to enhance communication and understanding within the family unit. Those sessions also help to introduce strategies to better support your teen throughout their mental health healing journey.
Normalize Seeking Help
Normalize the idea of seeking help for mental health. Remind your teen that seeking therapy is a positive step towards self-discovery and personal growth.
Different Types of Therapy for Teens: Tailored Approaches for Unique Needs
Choosing the right therapeutic approach for a teen involves considering their unique needs. Parents should collaborate with mental health professionals to understand their teen’s challenges, preferences, and identify the best evidence-based treatment recommended to support their mental health. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is effective for addressing specific issues like depression and anxiety, while Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can help them recognize their thoughts and feelings while engaging in behaviors that align with their values. It’s essential to prioritize evidence-based practices and involve the teen in the decision-making process. Here are various therapeutic approaches that may suit your teen’s needs.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors, proving highly effective for issues such as anxiety, depression, and behavioral challenges. Teens acquire practical skills to manage their thoughts and emotions.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
ACT is a therapeutic approach centered on mindfulness and acceptance. It encourages individuals to embrace their thoughts and feelings while committing to actions aligned with their values. By fostering psychological flexibility, ACT helps people overcome challenges, reduce avoidance, and build a rich, meaningful life.
Exposure Response Presentation (ERP)
ERP involves systematically exposing them to anxiety-inducing situations or thoughts and preventing the accompanying rituals or avoidance behaviors. This evidence-based approach, commonly used for OCD and anxiety disorders, helps teens break the cycle of fear and compulsions, fostering resilience and adaptive coping strategies.
Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)
TF-CBT is specifically designed for individuals, especially children and teens, who have experienced trauma. Integrating cognitive-behavioral techniques with trauma-sensitive interventions, TF-CBT helps process traumatic experiences, manage distressing emotions, and rebuild a sense of safety and trust. It’s evidence-based and tailored to address the unique needs of those coping with trauma.
A Roadmap for Your Teen Mental Wellness is Available in Therapy for Teens in Arlington, MA.
Navigating the teenage years is a complex journey, and therapy can serve as a valuable roadmap for your teen’s mental wellness. By comprehending what to expect and actively supporting your teenager through the process, you contribute to their overall well-being. Remember, seeking help is a brave and positive choice, indicating a commitment to nurturing your teen’s mental health during this transformative stage of life. Reach out today to begin your free 20-minute consultation. We would be happy to discuss what you are looking for and make recommendations on ways to proceed to help your child, you, and your family.
Other Mental Health Services Offered at Bain Health and Wellness Center
If you believe your teen could benefit from mental health treatment, reach out to the Bain Health and Wellness Center (BainHWC). We offer in-person and virtual therapy for teens experiencing anxiety, ADHD, autism, depression, trauma, OCD, and more. All mental health therapists at BainHWC are trained in evidence-based treatment and have several years of experience working with children, teens, and young adults.
Jensen-Doss, A., Haimes, E. M. B., Smith, A. M., Lyon, A. R., Lewis, C. C., Stanick, C. F., & Hawley, K. M. (2018). Monitoring Treatment Progress and Providing Feedback is Viewed Favorably but Rarely Used in Practice. Administration and policy in mental health, 45(1), 48–61. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10488-016-0763-0
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Mental illness. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml