Choosing The Right Therapist For Your Teen
The Right Therapist Can Foster Resilience And Growth
One in five teens has a diagnosable Mental Health Disorder (cdc.gov) and finding the right therapist to guide these teens through the uncertain years of adolescence can dramatically improve their chances of success in life. It’s often comforting for parents who are deciding whether to invest time and money into a counselor to be reminded that mental illness is not a “choice” or a “moral failing.” In fact, mental illnesses such as Anxiety, Mood Disorders, and ADHD occur at similar rates around the world, in every culture, and in all socio-economic groups.
Therapy is about EMPOWERMENT, not INADEQUACY
If you are concerned that your teenager is experiencing a mental health problem, substance abuse, or a social struggle that is too big for them to handle on their own, the best time to address your concern is now. The analogy of a young tree jettisoning to the side and then being corrected skywards again by a sturdy stake may be an appropriate comparison with counseling. Research shows that early intervention, with effective therapy, not only increases recovery rates for the child but builds resiliency and provides youth with the skillset needed to handle future stressors as well.
Choosing A Therapist
Vetting Your Options
Finding a therapist may not be as easy as finding a good dentist or tutor. Because of the confidential nature of therapeutic relationships, many people are hesitant to share openly their positive (or negative) experiences in therapy. Luckily, there are a number of other ways for a savvy parent to begin the search for a counselor.
A good place to start is through trusted friends, a doctor, or your child’s school. Typically, professionals who work with children in healthcare and education keep referral lists of specialists in the mental health arena. Another useful resource is the website PsychologyToday, where you can search by city, insurance company coverage, and specialty. If you are comfortable, crowdsourcing on social media by asking for therapy recommendations or searching previous posts (especially in a parenting group) can also prove effective.
Of course, many parents are limited to what their insurance covers. Unfortunately, in my experience, I’ve found that lists of approved counselors provided by insurance companies are not always updated. Sorting through these lists and contacting the providers for coverage and availability options may take considerable time. It is not uncommon for therapists to be booked three to four weeks out. Try not to allow the vetting process to discourage you from finding a suitable counselor that fits your needs.
Once you’ve received a number of possible recommendations, it’s helpful to review the therapist’s websites and bios. Many therapists will have additional information listed such as their background, education, specialties, accepted insurance (if applicable), and session rates.
Choose a counselor with experience and expertise in the areas that your teen is struggling. For instance, if your teen is exhibiting intense ruminations or repetitive behaviors, a mental health expert who works with kids and specializes in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders would be helpful. Or if your teen is overly anxious, perfectionistic, and hard on themselves, meeting with an expert in high-functioning anxiety is important. If you have a child who is struggling with impulse control, organizing/planning, and social inhibition, finding an ADHD specialist will likely prove beneficial. Although there will be some crossover, each of these specialists will have additional training and tools in their proverbial toolboxes specifically designed to help your teen handle their struggles.
Involve Your Teen In The Process
After you’ve researched and vetted a couple of referrals for counselors, show the options to your teen, and let them participate in the decision of who would be a good fit for them. This gives him or her a semblance of control. You are essentially saying, “You need to talk to someone, but I’ll let you decide who.” It also bodes better for treatment outcomes. When a teen or adult for that matter, is open and engaged in treatment, they will be more invested and benefit more from the experience.
One note: your teen may need to meet with a few therapists before you find the winning combination. Hold on to the list of additional options just in case the relationship doesn’t click or falls flat. Sometimes this happens (don’t worry, we as therapists understand and want the best for you and your family)! One of the most important factors in recovery rates is feeling a strong connection to your counselor or therapist.
Support Your Teen By Building Your Reserves
If your teen is struggling with maintaining emotional balance, there is a good chance that you are too. Supporting our children through moments of stress is stressful. Unfortunately, these kinds of tensions can feed off of each other. You may be unintentionally making things worse. Consider getting support to improve your communication skills, develop strategies for de-escalation, cope with teen angst and rebellion, or better connect with your family. You will likely find that by changing your behavior and attitude, you will impact the rest of the family as well.
Life will throw all kinds of challenges at our kids, some of which require outside support. Therapy can help empower our children to develop the tools to build resilience, utilize coping strategies, and shift their mindset to lean into opportunities for growth.