Struggling Teen? Therapy Can Help
Updated May 28, 2020
Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
Does your teen seem to be having problems in their daily life? Maybe they're more hostile than they used to be or argumentative. Maybe they're more withdrawn or moody. Maybe they just seem different from how they were before. Each of these things could be part of growing up and the changes that are going on as they become teens and adults, but they could also be signs of something else going on. Even more important to watch for are signs of substance abuse, self-harm or suicidal ideation or attempts.
Understanding What Therapy Means
A lot of children and teens may be hesitant to attend therapy because they think that it will label them as being crazy. They might be afraid of being misunderstood or of a therapist not believing what they're going through and just considering them 'children.' All too often teens are discounted and their opinions not considered or not considered fully because they are young. In therapy, it's important to explain to your teenager that they are going to be believed and that the therapist does want to help them feel more like themselves again.
Therapy does not mean that they are crazy. In fact, it means that they recognize that there is a problem and that they want to get help. It means that they are in tune with their mind and body and it means that they are on the path to the life that they want to live again. Someone who is trying to cope with mental health or emotional issues can view therapy just like treating anything other issues they may have. If a car is damaged, a mechanical expert is needed. If they broke a leg, they would never expect to just get over it on their own. The same is true for someone living with depression or anxiety.
The Importance Of Therapy
As children are growing into adolescence and further into adulthood, it creates a very scary time for them. Everything around them is changing, and everything within them is changing as well. Their bodies are changing; their mental processing is changing; their brain chemistry is changing. Outside of themselves, their friends are changing in all of the same ways and sometimes this leads to changes in friendships, loss of friendships, and a whole lot more. Not to mention they will generally be going to a new school, experiencing entirely new stressors and even experiencing even more pressure, both with school and with positive and negative influences in their lives.
This is a terrifying place to be, and it's a place that nearly every teenager is going to find themselves in at some point. For some, it's possible to push through and to survive. However, most will do better if they're given some assistance along the way. Therapy is one way that they can get the help that they need and get the support that they're looking for as they're going through these types of situations. Children and teens want to know that they're doing the right thing and when their family is telling them one thing, and their mind is telling them one thing and their friends are telling them something else it creates a difficult place to be.
Getting therapy allows the teen to express themselves and to talk about the things that are bothering them or that they are experiencing without fear of being judged or being labeled. It also allows them to be open and honest about things that they may have done without the fear of punishment from their parents. It's important to explain to your child that therapy is a safe place. Their therapist is not allowed to talk about what's happening in the sessions specifically and can only give a general overview for the parents of possible outcomes, with few exceptions like active suicidal plans or reports of abuse.
For example, a therapist could explain to the parents that they believe the minor child has depression or that they have anger problems or any number of other mental health conditions. They are not able to express any of the specific situations or instances that the teen has told them unless they believe that the child is an imminent danger to themselves or others. There are very few other exceptions to the law that requires therapists to keep their patient's secrets. This means that your teen can open up to their therapist completely, knowing that no one else will ever know what they say in their sessions.
Should Your Teen Be Going To Therapy?
If your teen seems to be struggling with their peers or friends or if they seem to be changing a great deal in their personality or temperament, then it might be a good idea to have them attend at least a couple sessions with a therapist. If they are self-harming, experiencing suicidal ideation or attempts or if they are using alcohol or drugs it's even more important to have them talk with someone. Talking with a professional will allow them to express their thoughts and feelings and whether they are currently experiencing a mental health crisis or disorder or whether they're facing the normal stress of being a teenager, it's not going to hurt anything to have them talk with someone. In fact, it's only going to help.
Therapy is a great idea for just about anyone, whether they're struggling or not. Being able to be open and honest with someone is something that many people struggle with, even when they seem to be doing okay. By having a therapist that is always there and available for these types of things it's going to be easier for the teen to feel comfortable about the choices that they're making in life. Even though a therapist is not going to give them specific advice or tell them what to do, having someone there to bounce their thoughts and ideas off of makes it easier for them to feel confident and to start believing in themselves.
Types Of Therapy For Your Teen
There are several different types of therapy that your teen could have, but the general aspects are individual, group or family therapy. With individual therapy, the teen will talk with a therapist entirely alone. Everything that they say will be completely confidential, but it will be one-on-one with the therapist. They will get personalized help, and they may have their homework that they are expected to work on to keep moving forward and to work through the problems that they might be experiencing in different areas.
Group therapy allows different teens to be put into a therapy session together. The idea here is that teens can all help each other because they're experiencing similar problems in their lives or similar mental health disorders. The group is generally kept small so that the leader or therapist will be able to manage everyone and keep the discussion focused around certain topics. It can be easier for teens to open up to each other and to help each other in these types of settings because there are some who have been getting help longer to motivate them and some who have been getting help for a shorter time that they can mentor.
Finally, family therapy can be a great idea if there has been any dramatic change in the family environment. Families that have gone through loss or divorce can benefit from this. If anger problems or suicidal attempts have affected the entire family, this could also be a great way to work through the thoughts and feelings everyone has. The best part about this kind of therapy is that everyone in the family gets to talk about what they feel, what they think and what they need to be happy.
Getting Professional Help
When it comes down to it, the most important thing is to get the professional help that your teen feels comfortable with. Walking into a therapist's office can be difficult, especially if you live in a smaller area. The idea of being recognized getting mental help can be difficult for teens and could make things harder on them instead of improving them. That's where online mental health help can be a very important step. It allows your teen to get the help that they need without forcing them into a physical location that can very easily be judged by those around them.
Online mental help, like with BetterHelp, allows your teen more access to therapists as well. It allows them to work with someone that they can feel comfortable with and that doesn't have to be located anywhere near them. Because the sessions are entirely online, there's no need for proximity. The therapist could be across the state or the country, making sure that they have access to the best therapist, not just the closest one.