Teenagers in Therapy
● By Digital Media Director
By: Dr. Amy Marschall, Sioux Falls Psychological Services
If you are asking yourself, “Would my teenager benefit from therapy?” you can consult a mental health professional about your child’s needs. Furthermore, if your teenager asks you if they can meet with a therapist, listen to their concerns. Teens might not feel comfortable or do not have the words to put to what they are feeling. Fighting, self-harming, or breaking rules can be nonverbal ways that your teenager is asking for help.
When talking to adolescents about therapy, the language used is important. Avoid stigmatizing language or focusing on misbehavior. For example, saying, “You seem stressed out lately, and it might help to talk to someone,” is more productive than, “You have been so rude and disrespectful lately. You’re going to therapy.” Therapy is a resource, not a punishment.
Research about treatment outcomes suggests that teenagers are less likely than other age groups to report a positive response to therapy. This is because teenagers are slower to build trust and require patience from both their parents and therapist.
Therapy with teens does not always involve the client on the couch, pouring out all of their secrets. Many teens prefer to explore art or music to process their feelings. If they do choose to talk, the conversation might not focus on what the parent feels is important. If you want your teenager to benefit from therapy, you need to be prepared for them to use the space in a way that is comfortable for them, even if it is not what you picture.
Many adolescents will resist or refuse to engage with their therapist. If the teenager is self-harming, suicidal, or threatening others, they need ongoing supervision in either an inpatient or outpatient setting to maintain safety. However, teenagers who are not in danger might insist that they do not want to participate in treatment. In these circumstances, I often recommend that we stop therapy because this teaches them that therapy can be a positive experience, and they are more likely to seek treatment in the future.
Mental health in teenagers is particularly challenging for both parents and therapists. With support and understanding, they can benefit from mental health services in their own way and at their own pace.