Mental health counseling is a great tool for helping teens work through whatever is troubling them. However, it can be difficult to know if a teen’s behavior is normal, or if they need to see a therapist.
Parents are often reluctant to reach out for professional help. They may want to wait and see if the issue resolves on its own. It’s important to learn the signs that your child needs outside help. Psychological and behavioral issues will only worsen if left unaddressed.
Signs Your Child Needs Counseling
Here are the signs that your child should see a counselor:
- Constantly feeling sad, hopeless, worried, fearful, anxious, or angry
- Having difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Feeling restless; unable to settle down or focus
- Talking about death or expressing suicidal thoughts
- Talking about harming themselves or others
- Engaging in self-harm behaviors (cutting, hitting, etc.)
- Abusing alcohol or drugs
- Earning poor grades in school or experiencing a sudden drop in performance
- Abandoning activities/hobbies they once enjoyed
- Changing their sleeping/eating habits
- Withdrawing from family and friends
If you don’t notice these specific symptoms but still feel that your child could use counseling, don’t be afraid to bring up the subject. Therapy can be helpful for normal life stages or major events like divorce or death. Even if your teen doesn’t choose counseling, make sure they know the option is there.
How to Find a Therapist for Your Child
Once you’ve identified signs that your son or daughter could benefit from counseling, the next step is to find a therapist. A good place to start is to talk to your pediatrician. They will know of local providers and may give you a referral.
You can also research therapists in your area. Before you start the process, consider getting your child a mental health assessment to identify the problem. This will help guide you in your search. For example, if your child is diagnosed with PTSD, you can narrow your search to therapists who specialize in treating this condition.
Once you find a therapist who seems like a good fit, the next step is to schedule an appointment. Be sure to verify whether the therapist accepts your insurance. Then, try a few sessions and see if your child feels comfortable working with them.
Types of Therapy that Might Help
There are many different kinds of therapy, each designed to accomplish different goals. A counselor may recommend a specific type based on your child’s needs. Here are a few traditional types of therapy that have proven results:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Motivational interviewing
- Group processing
- Interpersonal psychotherapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
It’s also important to distinguish between outpatient counseling and higher levels of care such as intensive outpatient (IOP) or partial hospitalization (PHP). In some cases, your doctor or mental health care provider will recommend a more structured treatment program like IOP or PHP, rather than outpatient counseling sessions. These programs will incorporate a variety of therapeutic techniques.
How Is Counseling Different for Teens than Adults?
Counseling for teens is very similar to counseling for adults. Many of the same techniques are used. The counselor may need to spend more time explaining the treatment plan and goals, but for the most part, teens are able to understand the counseling process as well as adults.
How to Talk to Your Child about Going to Therapy
Teens are often reluctant to go to therapy. They may see it as a punishment or they may worry that they will be bullied if their peers find out. As a parent or guardian, you can influence your child’s perception of counseling by the way you talk to them about it.
When you first bring up the subject of trying therapy, be sure to frame it as a positive experience. Highlight the benefits of going to counseling. For example, rather than saying something like, “You need therapy because you’re having suicidal thoughts,” tell your child, “Therapy is a safe space for you to express the suicidal thoughts you’re experiencing. Your therapist can help you develop positive coping skills.”
Never shame your child for their symptoms or frame therapy as a “punishment” for bad behavior. Also reassure your teen that therapy is confidential. No one will even know they are in counseling. You can work out an agreement where the therapist only shares things your child is willing to share, except in cases of emergency (such as suicide risk).
Teen Counseling with The Light Program
If you’re looking for therapists in southeastern Pennsylvania, The Light Program has several treatment locations near you. Our counselors are trained in a variety of therapeutic techniques and work with children ages 12-18. In some cases, younger children may be accommodated. Reach out to our admissions team to learn more: