Adolescence can be a challenging time for teens and their families. It can be exciting and full of new changes, but the stressors and struggles that teenagers face can be difficult for them to manage. In this stage, they are working to find out who they are and where they fit in the world.
They can be a bit more egocentric at this stage, struggling to see another’s perspective, and they also tend to be more impulsive, not considering the longterm consequences of their actions. They often struggle with knowing how to regulate their emotions, and they also are working to become more independent.
They face many different types of problems at this stage. They have academic stress over schoolwork and grades, and they have relationship stress from friendships and romantic relationships. They may face serious issues at home, like divorce, abuse, hostile relationships, or financial hardship.
They start to worry about their future and their next steps. These challenges can also affect the whole family, and it requires unconditional love and patience from parents to make it through these years.
One should never minimize the hardship that adolescents face, even if they seem small compared to some problems that adults face. A better response would be to listen, allow them to share, and make sure that they have the support they need. Counseling for teens may become appropriate if you notice that your teen is not able to manage these stressors well.
What is teen therapy?
Teen counseling is therapy from a licensed professional with a focus on adolescents and their mental health. This could be individual counseling with the teenager working alone with the counselor. It could also be family counseling or group counseling with other teens. There is value in each type of therapy, but a lot of teenagers would prefer to work with a counselor alone if they develop a trusting relationship with the counselor.
A counselor is going to work to build a safe, nonjudgmental, trusting environment so that the client feels safe to open up and share personal struggles with the therapist. The counselor will then work to create goals with the teenage client (and their family if applicable) and build a treatment plan that would best serve the client and help the client reach those goals.
What are some of the most common presenting problems in teen therapy?
Though the issues vary for troubled teens, these are the most common:
- Depression: Depression in teens can often present as anger or extreme irritability. It can also be confusing because it is hard to distinguish between depression and other hormonal issues in this stage. Some of the signs of depression in teens are as follows: your teen is disinterested in most things that he or she has always loved, withdrawing and isolating from family and friends, struggling to concentrate or get their work finished, crying excessively, having self-harming or suicidal thoughts, extremely irritable, and/or has no motivation.
- Anxiety: This could be social anxiety, separation anxiety, or other generalized anxiety. Some symptoms of anxiety could be panic attacks, stomachaches, trouble breathing and inability to relax, excessive worry, avoidance of things or places or people that produce anxious feelings, or trouble sleeping.
- Relationship issues: Teens often manifest problems in their friendships or romantic relationships. They stress over conflict in friendships or with other peers at school, even to the point of fighting sometimes. They also stress about dating, and sometimes they do not feel comfortable talking with their parents about these issues.
- School stress: Teenagers will talk about their struggles with grades or schoolwork or issues with some of their teachers. Though parents are removed from this stage, they should remember that this type of stress could be high for teens.
- Suicidal ideation: Teen suicide has been on the rise at an exponential rate over the last decade, unfortunately. Between the ages of 10 and 24, the rate of deaths by suicide is 10.8 per 100,000 people. Parents, teachers, and friends need to take suicide talk and attempts very seriously. One should not hesitate to immediately seek professional therapy for your suicidal teen, and if they are speaking about it very seriously or have attempted, please take them straight to your nearest emergency room. This is an epidemic in modern society, so it is imperative to take this seriously.
- Self-harm: Sometimes self-harming behaviors (cutting, scratching, burning, etc) go hand-in-hand with suicidal thoughts. However, they are not one and the same. Many times teenagers who self-harm do not really want to kill themselves, but it is a poor coping mechanism that cannot be ignored.
- Gender Dysphoria and Sexuality: More than ever before, teenagers are questioning who they are sexually. They are more sexually curious, more sexually devious and impulsive, and wondering who they are attracted to.
Many are now even struggling with transgender issues. These are very difficult feelings for teenagers to experience, and they often do not feel safe discussing them with their parents. However, it is important for them to have the support that they need when they are struggling with these things. Even teenagers in Christian families struggle with these issues, so counseling could help them navigate the impulses.
- Family issues: Often when teenagers are having behavioral, emotional, or relationship problems, parents will blame other family issues on the teen. However, it is important for parents to remember that the whole family system can work on things to improve the situation. Teenagers also will talk about the effects of divorce, blended families, living situations, family conflict, issues with parents, and even abuse.
- Substance Abuse: Many teenagers will, unfortunately, choose to experiment with drugs and alcohol, and sometimes that behavior becomes abusive. They become dependant on drugs or alcohol to function, and they are in need of professional substance abuse counseling at this point. If parents are concerned, they should not hesitate to get treatment for their teen.
- Behavior Issues: Though teenagers do not always admit to behavior problems, often parents will share with therapists about disrespect, defiance, school behavior problems, not listening, breaking house rules, and even more serious behaviors (like fighting, stealing, vandalism, premarital sexual activity, etc.).
- Bullying: Though schools are doing better addressing bullying, it is still highly prevalent in schools today. Many teenagers do not know how to navigate severe bullying situations, and a counselor could help them build the confidence to know how to handle them.
- Grief: Grief can be very difficult for adults, so it is important to remember that it can be just as difficult for teenagers. They may not be ready to discuss their loss, but counseling could be helpful when they are ready.
- Trauma: Teens who have been abused or neglected or experienced other forms of trauma could benefit from counseling as well because the effects of trauma can be vast and difficult to manage.
What are the different types of therapy used in teen counseling?
An effective teen counselor will utilize techniques and interventions from various forms of therapy that will depend on the presenting issues. These are the most commonly used:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
- Art Therapy
- Trauma-Focused CBT
- Narrative Therapy
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
- Group Therapy
- Brief Solution-Focused Therapy
- Medication Therapy (only given by medical doctors)
- Family Therapy
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy
When should you seek counseling for your teen?
If your teenager is battling any of the aforementioned problems, counseling could be beneficial. Also, it could be helpful if you notice any behavior that is off or if your teen seems to be struggling to manage his or her life situations and is coping poorly. Without help, these problems could get exponentially worse.
If you are a Christian, you may feel more comfortable with a counselor who holds similar beliefs and values so that your child receives the type of help that you believe will be most helpful in the long-term. They are often surrounded by peers and teachers who may not hold those same beliefs, and they can get confused about their own beliefs and values. A Christian counselor can help them navigate through all of it with a biblical foundation.
Teenagers are some of the most amazing, creative, innovative, and passionate people, and they are capable of great things. Their support system can help them live fully when they pay attention to moments when their teens are having a hard time. Seeking counseling for your teen could be the next right step for you and your family.
“Waves”, Courtesy of Matt Hardy, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Friends”, Courtesy of Sammie Vasquez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License “Walking at Night”, Courtesy of Paul Garaizar, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Family at Sunset”, Courtesy of Jude Beck, Unsplash.com, CC0 License