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Why is Counseling for Teens so Important?

Adolescence is a time of both strengths and challenges… During adolescence, their brain is still developing (up until age 25), so they are great learners. This is important to keep in mind as we review adolescents’ challenges, as they can meet these challenges with learning new coping skills.

The Challenge of Adolescence

  • The brain changes in adolescence actually increase a teen’s vulnerability to depression and anxiety
  • Nearly 1 in 3 adolescents (31.9%) will meet criteria for an anxiety disorder by the age of 18
  • The parts of the brain tied to emotion and gratification are very active in adolescence while the “brakes” of the brain develop slower … this leads to more emotional outbursts (often without the coping skills to manage them), more attention-seeking behavior, and less healthy inhibition
  • There has been an increase in the number of teens each year who have had a depressive episode, up 37% between 2005 and 2014
  • High school students today have more anxiety symptoms …and are twice as likely to see a mental health professional as teens in the 1980s
  • Most adolescents with mental health disorders never even begin treatment:
  • 40% of youth with ADHD go untreated
  • 60% of youth with depression go untreated
  • 80% of youth with an anxiety disorder go untreated

There’s hope:

  • We can reduce or prevent lifelong mental health and substance disorders if we support teens through this period
  • Teens often feel misunderstood, so some basic emotion coaching (link to that page) can go a long way in helping them manage their emotions
  • Counseling can help adolescents minimize risk while nurturing their vast potential by offering them a safe place to process their emotions and learn new ways of coping
  • Adolescence is an opportunity to prevent lifelong impairment by intervening with evidence-based treatments such as dialectal behavior therapy (DBT)

As a former middle and high school counselor, as well as a former college counselor, I know the inner worlds of teenagers and young adults. Teens and young adults today are dealing with more than any other time in history. Social media has increased the rates of depression and anxiety in young people, while exacerbating the fear of missing out, bullying, and feeling isolated.

In particular, DBT gives teens and young adults the skills they need to navigate an ever-increasing difficult social scene.

    FAQs About Counseling for your Teen

    What part does a parent play in counseling for teens?

    While parental involvement in a teen’s life is vital, there are limits to how active your role will be in your teen’s counseling. I know this is an important piece of obtaining services for your teen, so I’ve written you a letter to explain confidentiality further, which you can access here.

    I use what I call a 1-3-1 system to begin counseling with teens:

    • 1st session: Parents only. In this session, parents will have the opportunity to discuss:
      • your concerns
      • your goals for your child
      • what you’ve tried already
      • any relevant history
      • answer questions about the
      • counseling process
    • Next, the teen will have three sessions without the parents present where we will get to work helping the teen feel comfortable, get to know each other, and start the hard (and worthwhile) work of feeling better. 
    • During the second session, we will reserve a few minutes in the beginning of the session for parents and teens to be seen together to review confidentiality so that everyone is on the same page regarding what will and will not be shared with parents. 
    • These three sessions are followed up with one session with the parents only, where we will discuss the parents’ perception of what’s better, the same, worse, or different, as well as the plan going forward to help the teen meet their goals.
    At what age can my teenager seek counseling on his/her own?

    In Colorado, a minor who is 15 or older may consent to receive mental health services to be rendered by a facility or a professional person.

    I’ve done all the research on counseling for my teen but my teen would like to meet you before starting counseling, is that possible?

    A 30-minute in-person consultation is available for teens who want to meet me before starting work with me.

    Do you take insurance?

    No. You can read more about out of network benefits and my decision to not take insurance here.

    Will you tell me what you and my teen talk about in counseling?

    In general, parents shouldn’t expect the therapist to share anything other than the teen’s progress and general information about the issues your teen is working on (think of it as me sharing the headlines only, not the whole story). The only exceptions to this are the disclosures of abuse or threats to personal safety (discussed below in the next question).

    However, there are often differences in the confidentiality arrangements that are mutually agreed upon by a therapist, a teen, and his or her parents. This will be discussed with both parents and teens together during the second session.

    A common compromise regarding parent involvement in teen counseling is for the teenager to provide parents regular updates on the issues being worked on in therapy and whether or not progress is being made. In addition, the teen will be informed by the therapist before the therapist discloses any information to parents.

    I know this is an important piece of obtaining services for your teen, so I’ve written you a letter to explain confidentiality further, which you can access here.

    How does confidentiality work with minors in teen counseling?

    One of the most important elements in counseling’s success is the confidential and trusting relationship created between the teen and therapist. In order for your teenager to trust me as their therapist, he or she must know that I will keep what he or she shares in confidence.

    Since teens are minors until age 18, parents, therapist, and teen will always discuss confidentiality issues with all parties together prior to the beginning of counseling.

    There are several limits to client-therapist confidentiality that affect clients of all ages, and there are some gray areas that are specific to counseling with teens.

    In general, if a client discloses information about the abuse or neglect of a child, an elderly person, or someone who is vulnerable due to a disability, I am required by law to report the abuse or neglect.

    I am also required to report threats to personal safety, including clients’ threats or intentions to harm themselves or others.

    How much support can you offer me as the parent of a teen?

    I’ve found the above 1-3-1 structure works well to offer the parents the time to ask questions, share concerns, and gain clarity on the counseling process. If parents need more support, they are able to schedule phone consultations or in-person consultations with me as necessary, with the goal being how to support their teen. If a parent needs their own counseling, I am well connected in the therapist community and can make referrals.

    I’d like my teen to see you but they’re adamantly against going to therapy. What do you suggest?

    Evidence shows that when teens have positive expectations for treatment, they can be cooperative partners and get better. That being said, if a teen truly doesn’t want to come to counseling, it is often a long, uphill battle with little benefit. In these instances, I suggest the parents come to counseling to learn how to better support their teen, manage their own stress and anxiety, and get the support they need that can trickle down to the teen at home.

    My teen’s other parent and I are no longer married and they don’t agree with counseling. Can you still see my teen?

    Consent is needed from both parents or legal guardians. A signed consent form is required from both legal guardians.