The teenage years are challenging for teens and their parents. Teens face many new pressures and may not always react in the healthiest ways to the problems they encounter. In some cases, teens may need counseling to help them cope with their problems. Parents should know the danger signs to look for and how to find a counselor if their teen needs one.
Some of the struggles teens face are a normal part of growing up, like dealing with peer groups, experimenting with new ideas, and going through changes in mood, identity, and interests. Parents can help their teens through some of these issues by talking to them, being patient with them, and creating an environment that is structured and supportive.
Problems that teens and their parents may need a teen counselor’s help to handle include:
- Changes in family life, like moving, divorce, or a death or serious illness in the family
- The loss of a close friend or girl or boyfriend through death, a breakup of the relationship, or moving
- Developing an illness or disability
- Any kind of substance abuse or addiction
- Bullying or abuse
- Teen pregnancy
- Tragic events in the community or the world
While some teens can cope with these events better than others, almost all teens will benefit from talking to a counselor about them. Sometimes a teen’s behavior will indicate that there is a serious problem that requires teen therapy. Some of these negative behaviors are:
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors. These may include talking, joking, drawing, or writing about suicide or death, giving away cherished possessions, or expressing feelings that they are worthless or that things would be better without them. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, call 911 or a suicide hotline or get medical help immediately.
- Symptoms of depression, like being withdrawn, lack of appetite, sleeping very little or more than 9 hours per night, loss of interest in things they once enjoyed, neglecting personal hygiene, or crying for no reason or seeming sad for longer than two weeks.
- Violent behavior, harming or threatening to harm themselves or others, including animals
- Suddenly gaining or losing a lot of weight, which could indicate a life-threatening eating disorder
- Extreme, rapid changes in moods or personality, or drastic changes that last more than six weeks
- Running away from home
- Illegal activities
- Behavior problems at school
- Using tobacco, drugs, or alcohol
- A sudden change in friends
- Risky sexual behavior or sexual promiscuity
- Other risky or dangerous behavior
- Noticeable changes in school performance or attendance
Teens who exhibit any of these signs should be taken to a doctor to check for medical conditions that may lead to negative behaviors. A stay in the hospital may be necessary for a teen who is suicidal or experiencing severe medical problems. Therapy and counseling is an important part of treating these problems. Individual or group therapy can help teens to:
- Understand why their behaviors are negative, and how to cope better
- Recognize and change negative thoughts that may cause or trigger their behaviors
- Find better ways to solve problems
- Learn better social skills
Doctors or schools can usually recommend a therapist, or parents can talk to other parents or look in the phone book for counselors. In the teen is not covered by insurance, a school counselor or a therapist at a local clinic can usually provide free or inexpensive counseling.
The different types of therapists who can counsel teens are:
- Adolescent Psychiatrists – medical doctors trained to deal with mental illnesses and prescribe medications
- Adolescent Psychologists – professionals trained to help people with mental illnesses; they can prescribe medications in some states
- Social workers – professionals who help counsel and guide people with problems
- Licensed mental health counselors – therapists who have studied how to provide teen therapy
- Psychiatric nurses – registered nurses with special training in counseling
Regardless of the type of counselor a teen sees, make sure that the counselor is licensed, has experience treating teens in similar situations, and is someone the teen and his or her parents feel comfortable with.
There are several types of adolescent counseling that may benefit troubled teens:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps teens reduce their negative thought patterns and increase positive behaviors.
- Interpersonal therapy focuses on how the teen relates to other people.
- Problem-solving therapy teaches teens positive ways to cope with their problems.
- Group therapy allows teens to meet with others who have similar issues and talk about their problems under the supervision of a counselor. Online therapy groups are not recommended for teens because they are often not well monitored and can have negative results.
- Family therapy is also beneficial in helping teens and their families understand and deal with teen problems.
Some teen counselors may recommend medications to help teens, especially if the teen has a physical or mental illness. Though medications improve the quality of life of many teens, medications may have negative side effects that parents should be watchful for, especially suicidal behaviors.
In severe cases, teen counselors may recommend alternative therapies, but the long-term effects of alternative treatments may be dangerous for teens. Teens and their parents should try to find out all they can about alternative treatments before trying them, and need to inform their therapist of any treatments they want to try on their own.
Teen Counseling and Teen Therapy Sources:
WebMD, Growth and Development, Ages 15 to 18 – When to Call a Doctor [online]
WebMD.com, Depression in Childhood and Adolescence [online]
Nemours Foundation, KidsHealth for Parents, Emotions and Behavior [online]
Kidhealth.org from the Nemours Foundation, Understanding Depression [online]
Parents: The Anti-Drug [online]
U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, Depression signs in Teenagers [online]
Center for Mental Health Services, SAMHSA, A Family Guide, Keeping Youth Mentally Healthy and Drug Free, Depression Hurts [online]