Many teens benefit from one-on-one therapy. Therapy offers a safe place to obtain guidance and support during this time of budding independence, and is a good resource as teens work to develop positive coping skills. Therapy can help when a teen feels sad, worried, or anxious, and when these or other issues affect a teen’s positive health and development.
Mental health issues in teens can be caused by many different things. Excessive stress can cause difficulties, as can the loss of a close friendship or an unexpected change in living circumstance (relocation, parental divorce). Perhaps a teen has witnessed upsetting interactions, been the victim of verbal or physical violence, or has faced distressing community/world events. Sometimes there are medical issues that impact mental health. Perhaps there is a more significant emerging mental health condition, such as major mood disorder, eating disorder, or ADHD.
Teen development may be further complicated by heightened pressure related to school and expectations of higher education. Parents are more involved with their teens’ lives than ever before, able to access and comment on grades, attendance, and performance, sometimes before the teen has access to the same information. Together, these factors may contribute to higher rates of teen anxiety and depression and a general sense of dissatisfaction during the teenage years.
Finally, teen mental health is more complex today than in previous generations, as adolescents are not only influenced by family and peers, but also by an array of social media and reality television sources. Although this age group may be viewed as quite savvy by virtue of the information provided to them through these media sources, developmentally, they are of similar emotional abilities as older generations were at their ages.
There are numerous resources that can assist in a teen’s healthy growth and development. External resources, including family, peer, neighborhood and school community, provide support, help teens to develop a sense of empowerment, create opportunities for learning about healthy boundaries and expectations, and provide opportunities to learn effective and constructive time management. Internal resources are derived through personal experiences and as one establishes greater independence, and include such assets as commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, and positive identity.
Therapy offers teenagers a safe space to explore and develop these internal and external resources. The ultimate goal of therapy is to help steer adolescents to make healthy choices when it comes to relationships, school, and social interaction, and to help them discover who they are as individuals, separate from family and peers. Sometimes this comes from trial and error, recognizing what choices lead to negative consequences and what choices reap more positive rewards. Always, the therapeutic environment is supportive and non-judgmental.
There is no set length of time for teen counseling, and how long one participates in regular therapy visits depends on presenting issues. Typically, therapy will last at least several months. Often, teen therapy includes education, skill based interventions, art, and peer group interactions when appropriate. There may be times when a handful of family therapy sessions is a valuable addition to the teen’s therapy.
In most cases, parents or guardians will be asked to sign a consent form for their teen’s treatment. However, everything a teen shares in therapy is confidential, unless the therapist is concerned that they may be a danger to themselves or someone else. In such cases, the teen can expect the therapist to be open about any concerns, and prepare them for seeking additional outside help and support as needed.