What is counseling for teens?

Teens are in a unique developmental stage that bridges the gap between child and adult. In many ways they are coming into their own in their ability to hold abstract thoughts and develop higher level thinking skills. In many other ways they are still very young, with most teens’ brains not fully developing until they are into their twenties.

At Rowlett Christian Counseling, counseling for teens takes both realities into account and is structured to provide the respect and increased privacy that developing independence requires. We also provide the structure and tools that an immature brain needs to develop in a healthy way. Teen brains are more vulnerable than adult brains to stressors and input, so at this delicate time in a person’s development, counseling support can be a huge help to developing healthier patterns for their adult life.

Why would a teen need counseling?

Many parents struggle with this question, because it’s natural and developmentally normal for there to be a certain amount of angst during the teen years. The trouble is that it can be difficult to determine what is developmentally normal and will blow over, what is a deeper issue that might continue to worsen, or what will simply not resolve without tools to specifically address it. At a time when communication can be difficult and children are developing more independence, it can feel even more daunting to determine if a teen needs counseling. However, there are some indicators that something more than simply developmental angst is afoot.

The online world is another source of very real anxiety for teens as they deal with more input than any previous generation. Social media use is directly correlated to higher rates of anxiety and depression. Seeking help to deal with managing boundaries and expectations around this area can give your teen better strategies for coping with the pressures of the online world. This preventative equipping over crisis management can be helpful for teens who are coping fairly well and give them the support they need to continue to thrive.

Many issues that surface during adolescence are linked to past trauma that become difficult for teens to handle. Divorce, major life changes, shifts in social groups, conflict at home and unaddressed learning issues all can feed into adolescent mental health issues. If your teen begins to have a predominantly depressed mood or much more severity in mood swings, then that could be a red flag. If you notice that they are engaging in any type of self-harm, this is a sign that they need further help. Chronic substance abuse, or regularly getting high or drinking, is another sign that professional attention is needed.

If your teen is expressing suicidal ideas or thoughts, or speaks about harming themself, please take them seriously. Do not assume that it’s a passing phase, or that they’re being dramatic. These expressions warrant an evaluation by a professional.

Parents have the opportunity to extend compassion and empathy to their children, even when their behavior is challenging. You want your teen to know that you’re on their team. Taking your teen’s concerns seriously helps to build rapport with them, and ensure that you will be working towards the same goals.

In processing through the difficult experiences your teen might face, it’s wise to consider the example that Jesus sets for us. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are…” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). As you engage your teen, the example of the empathy and compassion that Jesus shows us should be the template for engaging our teens with kindness and curiosity. If possible, think back to your own teen years and the issues that you face, and get curious about listening to your child’s experience with an open mind.

How do I get my teen to counseling?

Taking an understanding approach doesn’t mean that you ignore problematic behavior. In many cases if your teen is really struggling, you might have to have some very frank conversations about what you’re noticing. For a teen, counseling is unlikely to be useful unless they buy into the process. This can be difficult, because there can be resistance to the idea. They may rebel against something they feel “forced” to do, or feel suspicious that the counselor will just be enforcing their parent’s rules. Broaching an initial conversation about your concerns in a non-confrontational way can be helpful, as well as using scripts such as, “I notice that…”, or “I’m wondering if…”, instead of making accusations or definitive statements.

Some teenagers might react defensively to your observations about changes in their behavior. Others might be relieved that you’ve noticed something is not quite right. Visiting your teen’s doctor can also be a good starting point. You can share your concerns but also give your teen time to talk with the doctor alone and allow the doctor to make an assessment. Often, they will clarify if your teen’s concerns warrant additional assessment by a mental health professional.

If your teen is hesitant about counseling, having a conversation to ensure there are other safe adults with whom they feel comfortable can be a helpful strategy. A teen might not want to talk to their parents but may be willing to talk with a friend’s parent, a counselor, a coach, a youth pastor, or a trusted relative or friend. Ensuring that your children have other adults they can trust and go to in their lives is an important safety net for them.

What are special considerations in counseling for teens?

Counseling for teens in Rowlett has some unique considerations. It’s essential that the counselor relationship with the teen client is one where good rapport can be developed. There are also some considerations around privacy and how much the parent or guardian is involved in the counseling relationship. While there are clear legal guidelines about treating minors and reporting any form of abuse, there are other more nebulous issues around a teen’s privacy in counseling sessions.

The best-case scenario would be that the teen, parent or guardian and counselor establish how they will handle this at the outset of counseling. Developing trust is foundational for the counseling relationship to be successful, but parents are also still the primary voice in their child’s life. How this is handled might depend on the teen’s age, the counselor, the parents’ need to know, and the type of issues at hand – for instance, substance abuse or behavior that is dangerous might need to be handled differently than less drastic concerns.

Going behind your teen’s back to seek information from their counselor is likely to undermine the trust developed in the relationship. Establishing a path for clear communication between all parties and setting your comfort level with privacy is important. 

Next steps

If you think your teen needs counseling, we are here for you. There are many types of therapy that can be effective for adolescents, including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and others. At Rowlett Christian Counseling, we have several counselors who have specific experience working with teens, who are also licensed and credentialed.

Depending on your unique concerns, you may also want to look for a therapist who specializes in trauma, eating disorders or substance abuse. These categories can all benefit from the skilled care that an experienced mental health provider can give.

At Rowlett Christian Counseling, we know that the idea of counseling for your teen can feel daunting, or like you have let your child down. Be assured that seeking care for a teen who’s struggling is the best thing you can do for them as a parent. We are here to help and would love to talk to you about any questions you may have.

Sources:

Rudlin, K. (2021, October 9). How therapy can help your teen. Verywell Mind. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/choosing-a-therapist-to-help-your-troubled-teen-2610351

Behnke, S. H. (2002, March). Confidentiality in the treatment of adolescents. Monitor on Psychology. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/monitor/mar02/confidentiality

Morin, A. (2020, April 11). What to do if you suspect your teen has a mental illness. Verywell Mind. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-to-do-if-you-think-teen-has-a-mental-illness-4109573

Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). Three signs your teen needs therapy. Psychology Today. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/when-kids-call-the-shots/201708/three-signs-your-teen-needs-therapy