Though many young people experience one or two difficult situations in life, most are able to work through them on their own with the support of friends and family members. But when problems arise that make it difficult to lead a normal life, therapy may be needed to get your teenager back on track. Therapy for teenagers can address issues with schoolwork, social skills, anxiety, depression, and other challenges. If your adolescent or teenager is having trouble, our experts in therapy for young men and women can help your emerging adult thrive. Ask about our DBT Therapy Group for Teenagers.
When your teen needs counseling: a problem or an opportunity for growth?
Instead of viewing teenage challenges as problems, we suggest viewing them as opportunities. By arranging effective therapy delivered by experienced counselors trained to support adolescents and teens, you can help your child grow into a healthy, well-adjusted adult. Therapy for teenagers is often life-changing. In therapy, your child can develop lifelong coping skills, build the skills for deeper connections with family, and become more resilient to the challenges that life will inevitably present.
Problems are also opportunitiesEastside Center for Family
When your teenager struggles, it’s time to step back and see what support your child needs. The prevalence of social isolation, anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges among middle schoolers and high schoolers indicate just how difficult adolescents can be today. We expect our children to live up to their potential in school, develop deep friendships, engage in extracurricular activities, take up hobbies, be physically active, manage their money responsibly, and be part of the family.
When our kids act out, experiment with substance abuse, don’t participate in school, or isolate themselves, they are sending an SOS message that they are in distress. As a parent, you may need to get professional psychological support for their needs. In therapy, your child and the therapist can identify the difficulties underlying the behavioral challenges. In some cases, those difficulties can be defused. In other cases, your teen can learn coping skills that will help them manage better.
Why do teenagers act out, take risky behaviors, or experience distress?
Children don’t become socially isolated, stop performing academically, drop extracurricular activities, or start taking extraordinary risks because everything going on in their life is good. If your adolescent is acting out or is in distress, there is a very strong motivating factor. The problematic behavior that you see, even if it is self-defeating or injurious, provides your child with some kind of benefit or relief — or they wouldn’t persist in that behavior. Every primal behavior (or at least those we recognize as unhealthy or detrimental in some way) is motivated either by a desire to gain some kind of pleasure or ‘reward’, or to avoid discomfort.
“Attention-seeking behavior” is usually an attempt to forge an emotional connection
When a child acts out rebelliously, the child is often subconsciously performing a behavior that will allow them to connect with their parent. What people usually refer to as “attention-seeking behavior” is usually an emotionally immature attempt to forge an emotional connection in the only way they know how — by doing something that they know will elicit a response, even if it’s not in the healthiest or most desirable way.
Your response as a parent, even if it is one of anger or exasperation, is still a form of connection to the person the child most yearns to connect with — their parent. Your child isn’t usually inclined to bother a random stranger on the bus because they don’t need a connection with random people. Without an underlying emotional attachment, there’s usually little if any reason to invest energy in someone they have no interest in interacting with. In therapy, we can work towards healthier ways of interacting. Our goal will be to replace undesirable behaviors with healthier ones that foster increased mutual respect and connection.
Socially isolating, avoiding school, and other behaviors can be attempts to reduce pain
Some problematic behaviors can be ways to avoid discomfort or pain. For example, a teenager who has anxiety about social interactions may refuse to go to school or drop out of extracurricular activities to avoid having to interact with peers. Seen in this light, staying home all day playing video games is actually a self-preservation strategy, strange as it may seem.
Avoiding social activities “protects” your teenager from awkward or uncomfortable situations. This avoidance is grounded in an instinctive drive for safety or comfort. The problem, of course, is that avoiding uncomfortable experiences also inhibits their emotional maturity. Personal growth and confidence develop by working through challenges. Avoidance strategies inhibit growth and tend to spiral to ever more isolation.
In therapy, we help teenagers understand their inner workings — understanding why they have been making choices that even to them might seem problematic — while supporting positive behavior change. Your adolescent can increase his or her classroom participation, engage more socially, and learn to take reasonable risks. As your teen recognizes and celebrates their growth, there will be challenges. In therapy, these challenges can be worked through as your child learns to manage difficulty.
Parents can’t do it all on their own; therapy for teenagers can help your family thrive
As a parent, your job is to provide love, guidance, and support. Parents cannot realistically be expected to meet all of their teenagers’ emotional and mental health needs. Helping your child transition to adolescence and then to young adulthood means identifying where they need a bit of additional support. Sometimes your child needs a tutor. Other times they may need the support of a professional counselor trained in therapy for teenagers.
You are not alone. According to JAMA Pediatrics (a journal of the American Medical Association), the prevalence of depression and anxiety symptoms during COVID-19 has increased by 100% compared with before the pandemic and remains high,
What psychological support for your adolescent can accomplish
Your child can get help dealing and coping with a variety of difficulties, including anxiety, stress, self-esteem, depression, bullying, eating disorders, relationships, anger, and other issues. In therapy, they can learn coping mechanisms that support resilience and success. Your child’s therapist is a resource that is there for them when they need assistance and advice.
What happens in therapy for teenagers and adolescents
Therapy provides support for adolescents and teenagers to find their own voice and their own identity in their families. Therapy provides a safe, non-judgmental, confidential space to talk about thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without fear of repercussion.
Often, play therapy techniques are effective with adolescents — just as they are with younger children. Therapy for teenagers may include arts and crafts, drawing, collage, sand play, storytelling, poetry, and music. The goal is to find effective ways for your teenager to express their innermost thoughts and feelings.
More resources for parents considering therapy for teenagers
- The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
- Global Prevalence of Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms in Children and Adolescents During COVID-19: A Meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatr. 2021;175(11):1142–1150. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.2482
- Puget Sound Adlerian Society (PSAS).
- Infographic — signs of depression in teenagers.