You know your teen needs help. Maybe they’ve even agreed to get help. So how do you find the right therapist and how do you know if it’s working?
These are important and valuable questions to be asking so you and your teen get the most out of a professional support experience.
1) Forcing or mandating your teen into getting therapy or counseling doesn’t work because you’re building a divide between what they need and their perception of it. Your teenager will dig in their heels and push away from the very thing that’s going to help them out of fear their beliefs they’re broken, flawed, and failing are true.
2) Normalize asking for and getting help. Normalize talking to professionals who can help you through a challenging or hard time. Share your stories about when you struggled with mental health, education, or in a job and had a mentor, your parents, or therapy and counseling. This makes it less scary for your teen.
3) Find at least three therapists/counselors who fit your budget and your insurance plan, and whether they do in-person or virtual meetings (which ever suits your teen best).Ask your friends and family for referrals from positive experiences while being respectful of your teen’s privacy.
4) Look for professionals who are specifically trained in dealing with or has personal experience with whatever mental health challenge your teenager is experiencing(learning challenges, anxiety around school, being bullied, ADHD, depression, self-harm, etc).What work are they passionate about doing? If they take anyone to fill their business, walk away.
5) Make sure this professional is trauma informed and uses different modalities to support patients beyond sitting and talking, as you investigate availability/waitlist, etc
Now that you have a shortlist of 2-3 professionals, here’s the big one…
Do NOT choose your teenager’s therapist or counselor for them. That would be like you choosing their best friend.
The number one element that makes or breaks all professional support is emotional safety. Only your teen can determine if they feel emotionally safe, not you.
If you choose your teens therapist, they feel like that’s the only option and even if it’s not really working, they feel guilty because you liked them, spending your hard-earned money without little benefit.
6) Empower your teen to interview each person and decide to give them agency over their process. If your teen is really struggling, they’ll need you to set up the interviews rather than ‘leave it in their court’ and it’s another thing that doesn’t get done because they don’t have the capacity.
No matter who your teen chooses, trust their intuitive hunch saying, “I trust your judgment”. Just by believing them you build trust in your relationship, and they begin to believe themselves. This buy-in alone can increase the outcomes of the professional support.
7) Empower your teen to speak up and continue affirming you believe them. There’s a difference between, “I don’t feel safe with this person”, and“ I don’t feel safe in this process”, because it’s inherently going to unwrap some challenging things. It’s okay for them to pump the brakes and say, “This feels too fast for me. I’m not sure about this process” or “I’m not ready to go there yet”.
Different modalities to explore:
- EMDR–Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
- EFT–Emotional freedom technique (tapping)
- Psychosomatic healing
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- NLP (Neurolinguistic programming)
Agreements to make:
- Check in with this professional and your teen after 60 days, after 120 days, etc. They’re not allowed to reveal anything that your teenager says to you, but they can share how they feel the relationship and process is going.
- Ask what can you be doing at home to support? What other things do they feel would support your teen?
- Empower your teen to say it’s not working or they need to find another person
The two key questions to ask over time (NOT after every session):
1) Does your teen continue to feel safe with this person such that they’re willing to reveal the hard stuff, be challenged, and asked hard questions? It’s not enough for the therapist to be friendly or nice.
2) Does your teen feel lighter after each session? Be cautious about this question. If your teenager doesn’t feel lighter at the end of every session, it might be because they’re doing some hard work that fulfills the criterion above. The therapist’s role is to bring greater awareness to what’s going on for them in their life and provide tools and strategies to navigate hard things, even release and heal from them.
Therapy isn’t about a destination of being healed. Mental health is a journey. This isn’t about how many more session still your teen is done or“ are you healed yet?”
What will happen is your teenager will say the right things and do the right things, so you believe they are in fact fixed to earn back your love and approval they feel they’ve lost. They’ll continue to deny, abandon, and suppress the part of themselves still requires more help to please you and appear happy.
Consistency is the key.
It’s a journey that might get worse before it gets better because they start unpacking stuff and it’s messy and hard. Only after your teenager has either reached a plateau(a normal part of growth) and they seem to have internalized some of the tools and strategies they’ve learned, they’re executing on the lifestyle changes that work for them, decided what coping techniques work for them and seem to be balanced and out of plateau, then it’s okay to go on an as needed basis or maybe a standing check in session.
The criteria above aren’t for you to measure alone. Instead, it’s a curious conversation with your teen that doesn’t have a pass/fail ending so your teen feels they’re once again failing expectations.
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