No Substitute for Doing Your Homework
“It’s tough finding a good child psychotherapist.’
Avrum Weiss, Child/Adolescent Psychologist
The last thing an already-emotionally-spent parent wants to hear is that he or she has homework to do to get professional help for their troubled teen. Truth is, there’s no substitute for doing your homework when it comes to finding that “just right” local therapist. The chances of someone handing you such information on a silver platter and having everything work out like a dream the first time right out of the gates are fat and slim. The bottom line is that the only way from here to there is by doing some good old-fashioned research.
The good news is that you don’t have to do all the searching on your own. There’s a lot of help you can call on all along the way. There are steps you can follow to increase the chances that your teen will come out on the other side of these troubled times much healthier, both mentally and emotionally. Just do what countless moms and dads have done before. Do the necessary work…the homework.1,2,3,4
Here’s Your Assignment
Above all else, your teen’s therapist must have experience working with teens. They are not like mini-adults. They have problems that only teens can have and deal with those problems in the way only teens.5
“Teens aren’t junior versions of adults.”
The “Just Right” Therapist
With teenagers, literally, every part of their bodies is still “under construction.” They don’t know who they are. They don’t know how they are supposed to feel. And they don’t know how they are supposed to respond. They are more than hormones on parade, but no words have been invented yet to accurately describe them. When it comes to therapists, it is strongly recommended that they not only have a solid working knowledge of the teenage brain, but also the deep well of patience it is going to take to hang with them all the way to Well Town.
Further, you can do one better than getting a therapist who has experience working with teens. Through referrals of those who have personal knowledge, you can find therapists who have also successfully worked with adolescents. There are those out there who have a track record of success. For sure, you have to rule out those who have not had success in the past, but more importantly, you have to find those who have proved their muster. You don’t want your teen to be the one eager new therapist practices on to get the experience they need.
Ask your family doctor. Ask your school counselor. Ask parent friends who have been down this road before. Ask family members too. Who would they recommend? Can’t hurt to ask. They might know just who you are looking for, or even better, who might be best for your teen.
Search online but be strategic about it. How near are the therapists the network services recommend? Will they honor your insurance plan? What disorders are they considered to be specialists in? Are they licensed, certified or credentialed? And what’s their approach to counseling?
The big 4 network associations include the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the American Psychological Association (APA), the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT), and the American Medical Association (AMA).
Different Treatment Approaches
There are different ways to professionally treat teens. They range from very directive to nearly wholly indirect in how they help adolescents heal. Get to know the different approaches and make your choice based on the issues your teen is struggling with. The most common approach is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which involves lots of dialogue whose primary goal is to help the client recognize the distortion in their thinking and behaviors and to replace them with more appropriate ideas and actions.
Group Counseling is an effective approach for many teens too. Its ultimate goal is to help teens see they are not alone, that they aren’t the only ones who struggle. It is also helpful to teens who are not comfortable talking about private matters with adults but might listen to and open to other teens their own age.
Personal Comfort Zones
Think about the specific qualities you know your teen will need to see in a therapist. Are they more likely to respond to someone who is direct and to the point, or nurturing and supportive? Consider whether they will prefer most, a male or female therapist? Does the age of the therapist matter? Finding a therapist who your teen will feel personally comfortable talking and be listening to is key. You know your child best. Further, this would be an important area for you to involve your teen in, and listen very carefully to what they have to say.
Key Questions to Ask
Here are some questions you can ask to get you started. Know as best as you can what your teen is struggling with, and then ask the following questions:
- What experience do you have with the particular problem my teen is struggling with?
- How long have you been in practice?
- My son/daughter is…how would you help them?
- Can family members be involved? Friends?
- What license do you have and is it current and up to date?
- What goals do you set for therapy, and how do you measure progress?
- Are you a member of a professional organization?
- Can you explain why you use the therapy approach you use?
The Biggest Step
In the final analysis, your teen must be a part of the decision making. And to do this they must be included all along in the research process. They for sure need to know what you know, as well as how you feel about what you know, but even more importantly, they need to get to know those same things too (about different therapists, different treatments, how things take, what their role is, etc.), and they need to come to grips with how and why they feel the way they do about this whole business of counseling…especially counseling teens.
1 “How to Find the Best Therapist for You,” Network Therapy.
2 “How to Find a Therapist,” WebMD.
3 “Choosing a Therapist to Help Your Troubled Teen,” Very Well Mind.
4 “How Do I Find a Therapist Near Me?” Better Help.
5 “Tips for Finding A Therapist for Your Child,” Kristin Davis.