How Do I Know If My Teen Needs A Therapist?

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 11, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

There are many significant changes that a teenager may experience across all different areas of life in a short time can make adolescence difficult. But, when should an adolescent see a therapist?

Teenagers are figuring themselves out and trying to make sense of the world around them, even as the ground seems to shift under their feet. As a parent, you may be asking yourself, “How do I know if my teenager needs counseling?” Parenting teenagers can sometimes be difficult and harder to distinguish between potential symptoms of mental health struggles or conditions like depression and the behavior of someone who is going through a lot of life changes. 

This article aims to help you make sense of your teen’s life and behaviors so you can respond accordingly.

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Is your teenager experiencing depression or anxiety?

Common mental health challenges teenagers may face

Adolescence can be a tumultuous time and teen years can impact your child’s behavior. It’s not uncommon for teenagers to experience some teen stress or to feel overwhelmed at times related to parts of life such as the following:

  • Body image, body changes, and appearance
  • Friend group and social life
  • Family life
  • Gender and sexual identity 
  • Romantic relationships 
  • Academic performance
  • Plans and goals

Teenagers often develop coping skills to navigate daily life with these new stressors. They may also face pressure from family members or teachers at school to excel in academics. Likewise, a teen might encounter pressure from friends to do things they may or may not be comfortable with and from social media to look or live a certain way. 

Since teens deal with life transitions such as trying to figure out who they are, what they value, and what kind of life they want for themselves along the way, the result can add up to stress, trouble managing emotions, and somewhat erratic behaviors. Some amount of this is normal for this stage of life but some behavioral issues are not normal and could potentially be harmful to your teen. So how do you know when seeking out the help of a therapist may be necessary or beneficial?

When should teens connect with a therapist? 

Talk therapy can help your child navigate teen problems and struggles. Teens can seek this support from school counselors, local support groups, and licensed mental health professionals. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of adolescents reporting poor mental health is increasing

Caring for your teen’s mental health now can help set them up for success in the future and help ensure any mental health issues are addressed in a timely manner. If they are experiencing a mental health disorder of any kind or if you are concerned about your teen’s behavior, you can seek professional support. 

Beginning therapy with a mental health professional may enable them to have better day-to-day functioning and stability now and going forward. A therapist can serve as a trusted adult who can provide guidance and help your teen to improve their mental health. Therapists are also there for your teen to secretly discuss serious problems in their life that they may not want to talk about with anyone else. 

Professional counseling can also be a form of ‘routine maintenance’ by scheduling sessions to keep a person without a mental health disorder on a healthy track. Teenagers—regardless of their mental health status—usually have a lot to deal with. Having a safe space where they can freely express and work through difficult emotions and get guidance on handling tough situations can be beneficial. 

Therapy can teach teens healthy patterns, strategies, and coping skills that can help them manage life’s challenges in their teen years and beyond. This may help reduce the risk of issues like eating disorders and many mental health conditions. 

Offering it as an option also shows them that mental health is important and that there’s no shame in seeking care, which is generally a beneficial attitude to have throughout adulthood as well. In addition to therapy for teens, family therapy is another option that is available for teens and parents in need of mental health services. 

Peer-reviewed studies show that family therapy has a positive impact on the mental health of both the teen and parents. For example, a helpful report from the Journal of Adolescent Health reviewing only high-qaulity sources indicated that teen therapy offers many benefits for struggles ranging from anxiety disorder to borderline personality disorder and many more. 

That said, let’s take a look at some specific instances that may indicate that your teen could benefit from professional mental health care right away.


Recognizing the signs of depression

Depression is a serious and potentially dangerous mental health condition that generally does not resolve without professional treatment. It’s also relatively common, estimated to annually affect about 15% of teenagers aged 12 to 17 in the US according to Mental Health America. That’s why it’s one of the parenting teenagers tips that are typically advised to watch out for warning signs in their adolescent children. 

If you notice the following symptoms in your teen, you may want to find a mental health provider who can evaluate them. While any of the following may be a cause for concern, depression usually manifests as a few or more of these symptoms lasting for two weeks or longer:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Frequent crying
  • A sudden, dramatic change in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • A significant, sudden drop in academic performance
  • Low motivation
  • Social withdrawal and self-isolation
  • Excessive guilt
  • Extreme sensitivity to criticism
  • Abandoning activities once enjoyed

It’s important to note that if you realize that your child is engaging in self-harm or frequently talks about death or dying, you should seek help right away. 

If you or a loved one is in immediate danger or if they are experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideation, reach out for help right away. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached by dialing 988 and is available 24/7.

If a mental health professional diagnoses your teenager with depression, know that treatment is available. It may include a psychotherapist to offer therapy or a psychiatrist to offer medication management or both. Their provider can evaluate them and propose a treatment plan and prescribe medications if necessary for their specific situation.

You can also speak with your family doctor or your teen’s pediatrician and request a reference to a professional who can evaluate their mental health or risk fo teen depression. 

Other reasons to consider therapy with a mental health professional

There are other mental health conditions that can affect adolescents and be addressed by treatment, such as anxiety, mood, behavior, or attention disorders. If any of the following apply to your teen, it may be a sign that they could benefit from speaking with a trained counselor on struggling teen therapy. Whether they represent potential mental health concerns or not, a therapist can help them sort out the root of the behaviors and shift their patterns if needed. Look out for:

  • Sudden changes in academic performance or interest in extracurricular activities (e.g., soccer practice) 
  • Potential substance abuse problems (drinking or drugs)

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

  • An abrupt shift in who they spend time with, or dramatic social withdrawal or traumatic experiences (death, divorce, etc.)

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

  • Frequent anger, angry outbursts, or panic attacks
Whether you have concerns about your teenager’s mental health or simply believe they might benefit from speaking with mental health licensed professionals, such as clinical social workers, online therapists, family therapists, or accredited psychologists, help for people their age is available.
Is your teenager experiencing depression or anxiety?

How to find a therapist for your teenager’s mental health struggles 

Learning how to deal with teenage girls and boys' mental health is important. How can I find teen counseling near me? If you want to connect your teenager with a mental health professional, you have options. If they’d prefer to meet with someone in person, you can do an online search for providers in your area. Can a minor sign up for therapy on their own? Not usually. You may have to start the process by having your child evaluated by their primary care physician, and asking for a referral from your doctor or insurance provider to a mental health professional if they deem it necessary.

You can also review your insurance plans to find in-network professional help. Or, if your child would feel more comfortable with virtual therapy for teens with a personal online therapy room, there are options available in this format as well. An online therapy platform like TeenCounseling can match them with a licensed therapist who they can speak with via phone calls, video calls, and/or online chat. All therapists are licensed and have positive reviews. Research shows that therapeutic online services with live sessions can offer similar benefits to in-person sessions, and they may also be more available for those without in-office providers nearby. 

Regardless of the format you and your child choose for them, a therapist can offer a safe, nonjudgmental space where they can express their feelings. They can teach them how to identify any unhealthy or flawed patterns of thinking that may be contributing to difficult emotions, handle conflicts and challenges as they arise, give feedback on maintaining mental health, and teach them how to cope with any symptoms of a mental health disorder that they may be experiencing. Whether your child is exhibiting signs of a mental illness or not, it could be worth considering therapy with their own therapist as a tool for helping them improve or maintain their mental health.


Adolescence can be a turbulent time. It may benefit your teenager to be able to speak with trained mental health professionals to sort through the many changes they’re likely experiencing. If your child exhibits signs of depression or another mental health disorder, it can be even more important to seek out the care they may need.

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The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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