Teen therapy is a critical service for young people all over the country. Although the teenage years are filled with new opportunities and budding freedom, they’re also a time of new anxieties, stress, and emotional and mental development both in and outside of the classroom.
For many, that means it’s a challenging period.
In fact, the World Health Organization estimates 10%-20% of teens have a diagnosable mental health disorder.
In addition, a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found 4.2 million U.S. teenagers received some sort of mental health service in 2020—a heartbreaking statistic that shows just how valuable mental health support truly is.
If you or a loved one are seeking therapy during their teen years, you’re not alone. Read on or jump to the most relevant section to learn more.
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The goals of teen therapy are the same as in adult therapy: to improve someone’s quality of life by increasing their understanding and control over emotional and social functions.
Because teens aren’t adults, however, teen counseling sessions may look a little different than adult counseling sessions. Differences may include:
- More time may be spent playing games to build a rapport with the therapist. Games are a great way for people to connect, as it creates a natural talking point where conversations can start and gradually splinter off. Our Pittsburgh teen therapists love using games as a way to facilitate new conversations while also building relationships.
- The topics discussed may be different from the topics discussed during an adult therapy session. The struggles of a young teenager can be very different from the struggles of an adult. While both demographics can have equally serious traumas to work through, teenagers are in a tough life position of limited but emerging control, evolving social relationships and status, and a variety of new, confusing experiences.
- Conversations may be held around whether or not details shared during the therapy session are shared with the parents. Some teenagers don’t want anything they say during therapy to be shared with their parents, which is a completely normal desire. In most cases, we’ll strive to comply with these wishes unless there are legal obligations for us to inform parents of a child’s progress or thoughts.
Teen therapy can provide numerous benefits! Contact our Pittsburgh teen therapists to schedule a consultation!
There are countless reasons a teenager might enter therapy for treatment. Those reasons often include:
- Issues with parents. Those issues often stem from physical, emotional, or psychological abuse, communication problems, or other factors.
- Family problems. This includes problems that extend beyond parents to include siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.
- Issues with self-worth and confidence. As teenagers grow older, they may begin comparing themselves to others. This can lead to difficult issues surrounding the way they perceive themselves.
- Friendships. Friendships may grow more complex in middle school and high school, and the difficulties surrounding them (like peer pressure and the desire to fit in) may create unique sources of anxiety for teenagers.
- Body image issues. Body image issues often become more prevalent as the teenager absorbs more media online and on TV. Middle school and high school students are also more susceptible to eating disorders, with one recent study finding about 1 in 5 teenagers struggle with disordered eating.
- Issues surrounding sexuality. As young teenagers enter puberty, some struggle to understand their own sexual identity and preferences—and how that identity and those preferences fit into the “expectations” of society and their peer groups.
- Anxiety. Anxiety can be quite common among teenagers—especially as they experience their first jobs, first relationships, more complex friendships, and greater difficulties in school. Shockingly, 31.9% of adolescents have some sort of anxiety disorder.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD typically starts in adolescence or teenage years.
- Self-harm. One 2022 study showed nearly 75% of teens engaged in self-harm or ideation—although this percentage may change from year to year.
- Trauma. This can include traumas that occurred during adolescence, but can also focus on traumas that occurred in middle or high school.
- “Overachievers.” Some young adults have trouble functioning outside of school and scheduled activities, where their actions have immediate purpose and value.
It’s essential to feel safe and comfortable with your therapist, and it’s especially important for teenagers to feel that level of safety and comfortability.
To that end, a good therapist will work to build a rapport with every teenager they work with, so every teen feels comfortable being vulnerable and sharing themselves during sessions—which is essential, as most teens love to have someone in their network who really hears them. Having this level of support gives them the opportunity to work through major issues within their control.
A good teen therapist is also willing to adapt with the individual’s needs, including teens who may be a little less mature. Play therapy, for example, may be useful for teens (or children) who aren’t ready to fully vocalize what they’re experiencing, but may be willing to share while playing a game or completing another activity with the therapist.
As video games increase in popularity, some therapists use video games as a tool for getting to know each other, and some even use it as a motivator; when teens are willing to share during a session, they can spend the last few minutes of the session playing a video game.
Finally, always check the therapist’s or office’s reviews to ensure they’re in good standing with their patients! Having the confidence that your therapist will respect you from the moment you walk through the door can help you relax and remain open and honest even when you’re feeling most vulnerable during a therapy session.
While working through issues in therapy, it’s natural for teens to want to exclude their parents as much as possible.
Here are some of the logistics of parents when it comes to teen therapy:
Setting Up Appointments
In most cases, parents will call to set up an initial appointment. Although they’re also engaged in filling out an intake form and the discovery process, they may be unable to learn anything else about their child’s session, as we’ll discuss in a following section.
Going to Appointments
Teen therapy sessions may be in-person or online. At My Wellness Center, our therapists offer sessions within the office and over video chat.
This allows us to be flexible with our patients and offers the benefits of both options:
- In-Person: Empowers the teen and therapist to build a rapport faster. In some cases, the safety and structure of an in-person session may help the teen be more comfortable and honest during the session.
- Video Chat: Creates more flexibility around scheduling, and it may help the teen feel safer and comfortable sharing themselves during sessions.
Ultimately, your teen should do what is most comfortable for them and what is most likely to help them grow and benefit from therapy over time.
For 13-year-olds, details discussed during therapy sessions may be shared with parents immediately afterward.
But teens who are 14 years old or older can decide not to have their information shared with parents if they would prefer to keep their conversations confidential. This privilege is honored even when discussing topics like sex, STDs, drugs, and alcohol.
We’ve also heard of some children who manage to get therapy on their own—without parental knowledge. This tends to be more common among children who come from difficult households.
At our offices for My Wellness Center, our lead Pittsburgh teen therapist is Jess Schiermeister, LSW, MSW. Jess excels at helping teens navigate the challenges we listed above and the confusing media that teens absorb today, including what’s on TV, social media, and the internet in general.
You can also book a session with Pittsburgh teen therapist Jen DeLosa, MCP. Jen believes life is too short to feel constantly anxious or stressed, and she uses her expertise to help teens take control of their inner thoughts and claim greater autonomy in their lives.
To book a counseling session with a Pittsburgh teen therapist, contact us! Our team is available to help you claim a higher quality of life!