According to the World Health Organization, one in 7 10-19-year-olds worldwide experiences some kind of mental health disorder. This includes conditions like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and behavioral disorders (Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, etc.).
People in this age group can benefit greatly from working with licensed professionals and seeking mental health treatment. However, it can be hard to find a therapist for your teenager.
For those who need help finding mental health professionals who work with teens, or who have questions about teen counseling, this guide is an excellent starting point.
Table of Contents
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What should I look for when finding a counselor for my teen?
Why is it so hard to find a therapist that works with teens?
How do I know if my teen will like working with a therapist?
What do I do if my teen doesn’t want to go to therapy?
What Should I Look for When Finding a Counselor for My Teen?
At first, it might seem like all mental health professionals work exclusively with adults. That’s not the case at all, though.
The following are some specific steps parents and guardians can take to find teen therapists:
Ask for a Referral
Start by asking for a referral from a trusted friend or family member. A child’s physician may also be able to provide a referral for a therapist or counselor. If you call up a mental health clinic, explain what you are looking for and talk with the receptionist to ask for a recommendation.
Use the Psychology Today Database
Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist database can be useful when searching for therapists and counselors who specialize in helping teenagers.
The database provides a variety of filters that allow parents to narrow down their options based on age ranges, conditions treated, etc.
Research Condition-Specific Organizations
For teens who have been diagnosed with a specific mental health condition like ADHD, parents may want to consider reaching out to condition-specific nonprofit organizations.
Representatives and members from those organizations may be able to provide insight when it comes to choosing a therapist, finding someone in a specific area, etc.
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Why Is It So Hard to Find a Therapist That Works with Teens?
There’s currently a shortage of therapists in general in the United States, let alone therapists who work exclusively with teens or specialize in helping teenagers.
Between the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a persistently troubling 24-7 news cycle, many people are more stressed, anxious, and depressed than ever and reaching out for help.
It’s good that people are seeking therapy and looking for healthy coping mechanisms. However, there simply aren’t enough therapists to accommodate the growing demand for their services.
For those who are having a hard time finding a therapist — or even a potential therapist — for their teenagers, here are a few tips that can help:
- Get on a waitlist: Even if you can’t get in for an appointment right away, the therapist’s office will know to call you when they do have an opening, which can help your teen be seen faster.
- Consider group therapy: Group therapy can be easier to get into than individual therapy. While it’s not as personalized, understandably, it can still be better than no treatment at all.
- Look into online counseling: Online counseling can be more accessible — and sometimes more affordable — than in-person counseling. It’s a viable option for those who have struggled to find a therapist and may even be more appealing to teens who are hesitant about speaking to someone in-person.
How Do I Know if My Teen Will Like Working with a Therapist?
There’s no guarantee that your teen will like working with a therapist.
A lot of teens may be resistant at first to the idea of seeing a therapist and talking about their mental health challenges. However, you can increase the likelihood that they will have a positive experience by carefully researching therapists before choosing one.
During your research, be sure to consider critical factors like these:
The most critical factor to consider when deciding on a therapist is their credentials.
Therapists and counselors should at least have a master’s degree in psychology, social work, or a related field. They should also have specific training and experience working with teenagers.
Teen therapists use a variety of techniques and strategies to connect with their young clients and help them manage their mental health symptoms. Some popular approaches include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): The American Psychological Association defines CBT as a type of therapy that aims to change harmful thinking patterns and replace them with more helpful ones.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): This article published by the journal Psychiatry explains that DBT was established for people (including teens) with Borderline Personality Disorder or other severe mental health issues. However, it can benefit everyone regardless of the seriousness of their mental health concerns. It teaches behavior skills and helps clients cope with stressful or frustrating situations.
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT): This article published by World Psychiatry describes IPT as a type of short-term treatment that involves identifying patterns in clients’ relationships and working to change and improve them.
Scope of Practice
It’s important to note that, if a teen needs medication to help them manage their mental health symptoms, they’ll need to seek professional medical advice from medical doctors or other qualified practitioners.
Therapists and counselors cannot prescribe medication. Psychiatrists, medical doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants can.
Some teens might be hesitant to go to therapy because they worry that what they say will be shared with their parents.
In most cases, anything said in a therapy session is kept confidential, unless it relates to harming someone else, engaging in self-harm, or the client being abused. It’s always best to double-check the therapist’s specific confidentiality protocols before deciding, though.
Finally, parents and guardians should talk to their teens about the specific demographics with which they’re most comfortable.
For example, do they prefer a male or female therapist? Would they prefer to work with someone in a specific age range or someone who is the same race as them?
What Do I Do If My Teen Doesn’t Want to Go to Therapy?
If your teen is truly resistant to therapy, you might be tempted to make them go anyway. If they start therapy by being forced into an initial consultation, though, they’re less likely to have a good attitude or experience.
Here are some alternatives to consider instead:
Go to Therapy Yourself
Working with a therapist can give parents the tools to better relate to and support their teens. It can also help them address underlying issues that might interfere with their parenting abilities.
Consider Family Therapy
Some teens might be more willing to go to therapy if they don’t have to do it alone. Going with other family members could be less intimidating.
Create a Contract and Negotiate
Parents might also want to consider creating a contract and negotiating with their teens.
For example, the contract might state that the teen must go to 4 therapy sessions. If, after the 4th session, they still aren’t getting anything out of it, they can stop.
Written By: Natalie Thongrit
Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Kyle Zrenchik
Edited By: Dr. Kyle Zrenchik
Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives. We do this through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. Inspired by this, we write content for your own education. Also, our content is researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals. However, the information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Additionally, it should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.