By Gina Henschen – MA, LPCC
Why Therapy for Teens Is Important
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated an already problematic issue: the youth mental health crisis. Pre-pandemic, suicide rates among adolescents and young adults were already on the rise, along with emergency room visits due to self-injurious behaviors. By 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, alongside the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association, went so far as to declare a national state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health. Consequently, therapy for teens is finally getting the attention it deserves.
The past few years have not been easy, and we’ve seen an influx of parents wanting to get their teens in for counseling. Whether your teen has expressed interest in therapy or you’re considering getting your teen some support, it’s important to understand the in’s and out’s of teenager therapy. Here are just a few of the many benefits of therapy for teens.
Learn coping skills
Whenever I ask my pre-teen or adolescent clients about goals for therapy, the topic of coping skills usually comes up. In therapy, we might explore a variety of coping skills to try out at home or at school to help cope with stress or other uncomfortable emotions. Usually, I will turn to evidence-based modalities like CBT or DBT as a source for coping skills (although your teen might already have some handy tools of their own!).
CBT and DBT for teens work a little differently from each other, but at their core they have the same goal: to change maladaptive behaviors. In therapy, we might use CBT or DBT techniques such as mindfulness or challenging negative thinking to help your teen add some tools to their toolbox. There’s a huge benefit to learning these skills earlier in life: your teen will be better set up for success by the time they enter adulthood.
Have a safe space
Adolescence can be a wild ride, to say the least. When I look back on my teenage years, I remember a lot of beauty and joy, but also a bit of pain and awkwardness sprinkled throughout the years.
Sometimes, kids just need a safe person to talk to who isn’t a parent or a friend. That’s not to say that parents and friends aren’t important — they are absolutely essential! But during such a delicate time as adolescence when teenagers are exploring themselves, it can be helpful to have an impartial yet caring adult in your child’s life. That’s where therapy can come into play.
I personally believe that a strong therapeutic relationship is the most important factor in successful therapy outcomes, especially when counseling adolescents. I truly strive to make my adolescent clients feel safe and seen so that they eventually feel comfortable opening up in therapy. This might take some time as we get to know each other and build rapport, which is why I typically prefer to meet with teenagers weekly when they first get started. My goal is for your child to have a 100 percent safe and confidential space to talk about whatever is on their heart. That is where true magic happens.
In my experience, therapy for teens works most effectively when parents or guardians trust that the therapist will do his or her job. This might mean relinquishing a bit of control over what is discussed in therapy. Rest assured that any therapist who works with teenagers will inform you, if you are a parent or guardian, of any safety concerns should they arise. Apart from that, I truly believe things work best when teens have a confidential space to explore their emotions.
Create a positive sense of self
Again, this is one that might take way more work as an adult than as a teenager! Therapy can do wonders to build your teen’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth. I like using a strengths-based approach with all of my clients, but especially adolescents. By focusing on personal strengths, therapy can help teens recognize their resilience and their ability to overcome hardships. In turn, this builds self-confidence and a greater sense of well-being.
Teenager therapy: Why it matters
As an article from Harvard Medical School puts it, mental health is just as important as physical health. Parents quickly jump to take their children to the doctor whenever they show signs of physical illness, yet sometimes symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other underlying conditions get dismissed as “moodiness.” Therapy can help “catch” and treat some of these symptoms so that your child can go on to lead a healthy and fulfilling life.