How to Pick a Therapist for Your Teenager
Written by HFC Founder, Amy Rollo, M.A., LPA, LSSP, LPC-S
I can remember it like it was yesterday. The awkward silence. The “I am not really sure why I am here.” And the thoughts of, “can I really trust this person?” I wasn’t sure what to say, so I casually noted her nails and asked about her manicure. We had awkward banter for 10 minutes about her nails, and before I knew it I was in a waiting room, and my father was in her office. 20 minutes later I came back in, and we were discussing that my room was messy and “how could you help more around the house?” My question was answered, “No this isn’t a person I can trust.” My urge was to run out of the room crying. My 8th grade self needed more. I needed someone to process my big emotions that my developing brain was having a hard time processing. I needed a person in my world to let me know I would be okay even when my world was not okay. I was an adolescent who was dealing with life circumstances that you should not have to cope with at any age.
That was my first encounter with counseling. A week later, my father called an hour before my next session to remind me of my session, and I flat out refused to go. I cried and begged and basically refused. I never went back to counseling for about 20 years. This might have been why I started my study of psychology when I was 18 years old and why I still haven’t stopped learning how to craft my skills in a way to connect with clients as their therapist. This is why I am passionate about my clients, and so protective of my adolescent clients. I know how hard this process can be to sit in a room and decide, “Is this the person I choose to open up to?”
I am a firm believer in counseling. This seems like a silly statement since I am a counselor, but this statement is necessary before I go onto the next one. I also believe that counseling can be detrimental if done incorrectly. This is especially true for teenagers. The teenage years are such a vulnerable time. Research shows that just one positive adult in a teenager’s life is enough to change their life trajectory forever. Here are some ways to know if you have a therapist who is a good fit for your child.
1. Ask them how they connect with their teenage clients. If they don’t have strategies or ways to build therapeutic rapport, this can be a sign that teenagers are not their specialty. In my younger days, I would keep up with all the popular bands, YA books, and movies. I’m getting older now, but I always ask what music the client is interested in, and you know what… I then spend some time listening to it. Working with teenagers means that to understand their world you have to dive deeper than just asking questions; you have to actually listen to the information they do share. A good therapist will find out what music they like, listen to the lyrics, and ask what the songs mean to them; they go into their world. They will always ask to understand and not to judge.
2. Ask them about their confidentiality policy for parents. What I recommend might differ from what you want. Once a teenager enters high school they need a space to feel safe from judgement. They can ask and talk about all the things they might be too scared or embarrassed to talk to other adults about. My role isn’t to tell them what to do. My role is to teach healthy problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and impulse control regarding decisions. I don’t want to “slap a Band-aid” on your child’s difficulties, but instead help them soar in life. I will offer family sessions to improve communication within the family, discuss goals, and talk about any life threatening concerns, but otherwise my respect for the privacy of counseling is applied. I often say that I am a parent to two awesome kids already. I don’t want to be another parent to your child. They already have awesome parents. If the teenager thinks that I will share everything with their parents, then they will never open up to me. I’m merely another authority/parent figure in their world.
3. Ask them the counselor their approach to therapy and why it works with your child’s presenting concerns. Almost every therapy model I’ve learned has merit, but you want a counselor that feels confident in their approach and can communicate why it can be a good fit for their child.
Feel free to email any questions you have. I’d love to find a good fit for your teenager to help them navigate life’s difficulties, opportunities, and successes.