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4 things to consider when finding therapy for your teen

Due to the pandemic, the last couple years have been challenging for everyone’s mental health, especially teens. Some of my favorite memories of adolescence are hanging out with friends, going to the mall with friends, and playing sports with friends and classmates.

Lately, important freedoms that contribute to teen development in the areas of independence and individuation have been precarious. Parents contact me, worried about their teen’s well-being and ability to cope. Tired of feeling unmotivated and anxious, teens are asking for help with their mental health.

Like many, if you are trying to figure out whether to connect your teen to a mental health resource, like therapy or teen life coaching, here are four areas to take inventory of. If some of these areas are on shaky ground, therapy or teen life coaching may be beneficial to your teen.

  1. Current supports. Who does your teen talk to the most? Who do they go to when facing a problem? Maybe it’s you or another relative. Perhaps it’s an adult at their school. Maybe it’s their friends. For the best positive mental health outcomes, teens need at least one adult champion (best if there are three!) in their lives, someone they can go to who has their back, judgment-free.
  2. Concurrent stressors. What stressors are impacting your teen? Are they preoccupied with their body image, future, grades, family conflict, parent expectations, a significant loss, relationship breakdowns, friend drama, tryouts, bullying, etc.? Everyone experiences stress, but the more frequent and intense a stressor is, the more it drains a person’s emotional, mental, and physical battery.
  3. How much the problem disrupts daily functioning. Is your teen struggling to get out of bed in the morning? Are they stuck in spiraling negative thoughts? While being in a slump is a normal human experience, your teen’s days (or most days) shouldn’t feel like trudging through mud - for them or for you.
  4. Current coping strategies. How does your teen deal with their negative emotions? What do they fall back on when they are upset? Coping strategies can range from workable (effective) to non-workable (non-effective). Pay attention to your teen’s non-workable (and concerning) coping strategies, often around drugs, unsafe relationships, self-injury, aggression, and other risky behaviors.

How do you choose the right mental health resource for your teen?

When choosing a therapist or teen life coach for your teen, fit is your No. 1 priority. You and your teen want to choose someone they feel comfortable with, someone you can easily communicate with, and someone who is knowledgeable and passionate about teen issues.

You also want to think about how the sessions will unfold. When I was developing my practice, I thought about the ways I worked things out when I was a teen: walking with my best friend while venting about relationships and school stress, keeping a journal for poetry and art to let it all out, or blasting my music until the feelings passed.

Talk to your teen about their ideas and preferences. Here are a few options:

Walk-and-talk sessions. Your teen meets their therapist/teen life coach at a safe outdoor space and walks during their session. They can take breaks or walk the entire time.

This kind of support can be great if:

  • they are intimidated by the idea of sitting down face to face with someone
  • they like to move
  • they like being outdoors
  • they open up with others while walking

Expressive arts/art-based therapy. Expressive arts/art-based therapy is a way of supporting your teen to express, understand, and discover themself while using experiential mediums like painting, writing, drawing, photography, movement, music, crafting, etc. You don’t need to see yourself as an artist or even think you are creative to try this. When teens (and me!) use expressive arts in session, they are often surprised at what comes to their awareness.

This kind of support can be great:

  • to transform an emotional response (e.g., anxiety to calm)
  • to put into physical form feelings and thoughts that are difficult to put into words
  • to bring awareness to their inner experience to make changes and come to resolutions
  • if your teen is less verbal, needs more time to process their experiences, or enjoys being creative

Virtual sessions. Your teen can easily hop online from the comfort of home. If your teen has a private, cozy space, this may be a great option. It can be nice to have the family pet snuggle up to your teen or for them to be able to sit on their bed while wearing their favorite pajamas during their session.

 Here are a few things for your teen to consider:

  • Is my home a safe space?
  • Is my home quiet and distraction-free?
  • Am I virtually tapped out (one too many Zoom calls)?
  • What are the pros and cons of this type of therapy for me?

Group sessions. Meeting with peers can seem intimidating at first, but the benefits can be great. After bringing down the wall of nerves, groups can be an amazing platform for your teen to know they are not alone. Groups can build community, trust, and open doors to destigmatize thoughts, feelings, and experiences for its participants.

This kind of support can be great if:

  • your teen feels alone or isolated
  • your teen would benefit from developing additional communication or social skills
  • your teen feels some shame in their experience. Groups offer that space of ‘you are welcome and belong’ and ‘you really matter’
  • your teen’s social life is being impacted by their challenges

Face-to-face sessions. Face to face provides a clear container for mental health support. The space is dedicated for this and once your teen leaves the session, they metaphorically leave some of that tough stuff in that space. Having a consistent, familiar space can feel comforting and safe. Knowing all they need to do is show up and everything will be there, familiar, can alleviate their additional stress.

You are doing the best you can, but it’s necessary that you don’t do it alone. Reaching out for support is a powerful parenting move that invests in your teen’s current and future well-being.

Good mental health

For a mental health eBook for teens, visit my website. This eBook has 10 mental health exercises every teen needs to know!

Raising a teen girl? Check out my free anxiety toolkit. You will receive 10 tools you can implement, and 7 daily mini webinars with more support.

Chantal Côté, psychologist and teen life coach, is on a mission to help teen girls build bulletproof mindsets. Founder of Pyramid Psychology and creator of the Stress Busting Bootcamp and The Happiness Pill Teen Life Coaching program, Chantal is passionately dedicated to supporting youth to find their strengths, self-love, and self-acceptance to begin thriving. Learn more by calling or texting 403-812-1716 or checking out pyramidpsychology.com.

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