It’s one thing to find the “just right” counselor to help your troubled teen with his or her emotional health issues, but it’s a whole another thing to get them to actually go to counseling and take it seriously.
No doubt about it, many of America’s teens today are troubled and in need of professional help. Experts say more than 4-million pre-teens and teens face serious mental and emotional health issues every year across the country, whether it be Attention Deficit Disorder, Anxiety, Depression, Disordered Eating, or Behavioral Conduct Disorder, just to name a few.1
“If you are alive, you need counseling.”
Josh Shipp, Convincing Teens to Get Counseling
Fueling the bulk of the resulting teenage emotional health problems are relationship breakups, drug and alcohol abuse, being bullied, and living in dysfunctional families. Sadly, in my experience as a public educator, less than one-fourth of these troubled teens ever get the help they so badly need.
If that’s indeed true, then “Houston, we have a problem.” That means if so many typically refuse the treatment they desperately need, we have millions of mentally and emotionally disturbed teenagers out there well on their way to becoming mentally and emotionally disturbed adults.
How to Know When Your Troubled Teen Needs Counseling
In the teen counseling experience for parents, the easy part is knowing when it’s time to start looking. Even before you start seeing the classic response signs, just knowing that the following events2 could set your teen off headed down a troubled road, should start you on your search. Have there been any changes in your teen’s family life, like moving, divorce, serious illness, or death? Has your teen recently lost a close friend, or broke up in a relationship? Did your teen just find out about an illness or disability that they have? Is your teen using or abusing drugs or alcohol? Anyone bullying your teen. either in person or through social media? Is your teen on either side of a pregnancy?
“Teenagers are rarely easy.”
Mark Banschick, M.D.
How about some of those classic response signs that practically scream out: “I need help!” Any suicidal talk, even if seemingly joking around? Any signs of depression, like being withdrawn, long periods of silence, loss of appetite, extended hours of sleep, excessive weepiness or crying, or even neglecting personal hygiene? Instances of aggressive or violent behavior, even toward self? A downward turn in school involvement or performance?
Banschhick, writing for Psychology Today, asks if your teen shows signs of significant moodiness? Or, is he or she so anxious that sleep is not possible? Further, Banschick asks how bad things have gotten: can/t get out of bed, no longer seeing friends, not going to school, or even talking of self-harm? Are drugs and alcohol involved?3
How to Look for the “Just Right” Counselor for Your Troubled Teen
The appearance of any of these signs, as well as others, requires at least a doctor visit to check for medical issues that could be the cause. Suicidal or violent behaviors might require a stay in a hospital for a period of time. And your search for a counselor needs to begin here as well. Attending physicians will have recommendations that you should definitely check out, but also you must do your due diligence, and get other professional advice as well. If your teen is not covered by insurance, talk to the school counselor or a therapist at a local clinic about free or inexpensive counseling.2
“I know when my daughter needed help, finding the ‘just right’ counselor was like finding a needle in a haystack.”
Jeff Rogers, parent
Adolescent specialists are available at all levels in the counseling world, from psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, counselors, social workers, and even psychiatric nurses. Just make sure they have experience working successfully with teens, that they are licensed, and is someone your teen is comfortable with. It may take the time that you do not think you have, but finding a counselor that is a good fit is worth the time taken, and maybe even, in the end, be the greatest savings of time.3
How to Get Teens to Go and Take Counseling Seriously
Here’s where the rubber hits the road. You could have found the greatest counselor in the world, who could do wonders with your teen, but nothing good can happen if he or she won’t go to the counselor, or won’t take the counseling seriously.
“It’s ok to admit to your teen, ‘I don’t have all the answers. Maybe you could talk to someone else besides me?'”
Amy Morin, LCSW, “What to Do if Your Teen Refuses to Go to Counseling,” 2018.
Teen Counseling guru, Josh Shipp, knows what teens who most need help can be like, resistant, manipulative, irritable, cajoling, and ultimately frustrating as all get out. His recipe for getting your teen to actually go to see a counselor and taking the counseling seriously is as follows:4
1. Remove the Stigma
- Go into conversation with your teen from the beginning with the attitude that we all could use counseling, we all have issues we need help with.
- Express that seeing a counselor is not a judgment, not saying you’re a screw-up, and not suggesting you are bad.
- Explain that being in counseling is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.
2. Find a Compatible Counselor
- Choose someone who does not talk down to teens.
- Work with someone who understands what your teen is going through
- Pick a person your teen likes or would like to talk to.
3. Set Healthy Expectations
- Admit that the first couple of sessions usually “suck.”
- Confess things will seem worse than better at first.
- Explain that both are good signs, not red flags.
“We’ve all been there, and know teens can be tough.”
1 “Child and Adolescent Issues,” Good Therapy, 2018.
2 “Teen Counseling,” Family First Aid.
3 “Does My Teen Need Treatment?”, Mark Banschick, M.D., Psychology Today, 2018.
4 “Convincing them to Get Counseling,” Josh Shipp, 2018.
5 “Counseling Services for Parents of Troubled Teens,” Behavior Health.