“My teen is in need of mental health therapy and counseling, but there are so many options out there. How do I find a good therapist that meets their specific needs?”
There may be any number of reasons your teen needs professional help. Perhaps you have noticed they are struggling with:
Whatever the reason, a visit to your child’s pediatrician or general practitioner is an excellent first step toward emotional wellness. The doctor can use your teen’s medical history to make recommendations for treatment options that could include a comprehensive assessment by a mental health specialist and who to contact, including teen therapy centers.
If no specialists were recommended by your child’s doctor, the best route is to start with a general psychology practitioner. This practitioner can recommend either themselves for further treatment or provide guidance on other providers who may have skills better suited to your teen’s needs.
Understanding the Types of Mental Health Professionals
Mental health specialists work as part of in-person treatment practices, online practice groups, and intensive treatment facilities that provide residential treatment options. These practitioners are credentialed and licensed individuals who fall under the scope of either psychiatry or psychology. Depending on their credentials, most are allowed to provide counseling as a form of treatment. You can find psychiatrists and psychologists by searching your health insurance plan’s providers or visiting Psychology Today.
Psychology vs. psychiatry: What’s the difference?
Both psychology and psychiatry are areas of medical expertise that focus on a person’s emotional well-being. The key difference between the two is that psychiatric specialists are typically the ones to prescribe medications if they’re needed as part of your child’s treatment plan.
In this group, providers typically can’t prescribe medications. They focus on counseling.
In this group, providers typically can prescribe medication, and some may provide counseling.
Choosing the Right Mental Health Therapist for Your Child
According to Nicole Pingel, a licensed professional counselor with Calo Programs, a residential treatment center for adopted preteens and teens, when selecting a mental health clinician for your teenager, you should find a provider or therapy center that specializes in teen counseling. These professionals have special training focused on treatment approaches tailored to this age group. One way this training is provided is through Certified Child and Adolescent Trauma Professional (CATP) certification. Teen counseling training helps therapists work with teens diagnosed with issues including attachment disorders, trauma, autism, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bullying, anxiety, and more.
Pingel said the best reason to find a teen counselor is “That’s what their training and experience is specifically geared toward. Somebody who didn’t have training in child and adolescent experiences may not have as much focus or understanding on how those early developmental experiences may affect the client over different domains of life, such as school, home, and work.”
Teen counseling can be done individually in one-on-one sessions or via group therapy. These sessions aim to provide your adolescent with a safe space where they feel free to talk about their feelings. This open exchange allows the practitioner to work with them to identify problems and discuss ways to develop healthy coping mechanisms and achieve mental wellness.
Counselors are skilled in different therapeutic methods. Understanding which treatment style is being used before beginning and discussing these styles with your teen can help everyone know what to expect. Allowing your child to take part in the selection helps them build trust with the counselor while ensuring they are comfortable with the chosen treatment approach.
Teen counseling centers provide any one or a combination of the following:
Helpful Tips: Questions To Ask a Potential Therapist
Once you decide which type of practitioner and treatment approach may work best for your teen, during an initial consultation, you should ask:
A final question you might have is “How common is it to have discussions with and input from parents during the course of therapy?”
Pingel said in her experience, parental involvement often depends on the approach. For example, at Calo, a residential program, there are weekly family therapy sessions where the entire family interacts with therapists. The therapist will provide regular updates and communication about the sessions.
In an outpatient setting, Pingel said, sometimes parents sit with their teen during individual therapy. She added that it’s best if the parent is not present so the child can freely express themselves. She also noted that when the teens are still minors, parents will be privy to some information during private sessions.
“The therapist will provide parents with general information about what’s happening, especially if there’s an immediate safety concern, such as self-harm or suicidal thoughts,” Pingel said. “The parents, in turn, can provide valuable information to the therapist about what’s going on in the home from their perspective.”
General information includes how issues brought up in therapy could be affecting the teen in their daily life. Therapists could then educate parents on how to respond to and help their child.
In addition, Pingel said, parents should ask their therapist to coordinate with other providers, such as a school, psychiatrist, or occupational therapist, to ensure continuity of care across all areas.
Be Flexible if You Don’t Find the Right Fit
Even after thoroughly evaluating your options and selecting a practitioner you like, understand that there may not be a perfect fit between your teen and their practitioner right away. It may take a few sessions for your teen to settle in with a therapist, so encourage them to give it a bit of time. That said, it’s always OK to stop treatment with one therapist and seek out another. According to Pingel, feeling comfortable with the therapy center, counselor, and treatment approach the therapist takes is imperative for your adolescent to find success with their mental health treatment.
I'm April Bailey, a freelance writer and editor for hire who has been writing about various topics for many years. Most of my early print work was destroyed in a major house fire. Luckily, I was able to pull some copies from an old PC and have posted them here. Other items on this blog reflect my current articles and blog posts written for online publications and copied here so I never lose my work again!