When teens are going through challenging times, such as difficulties at school or family problems, they may feel more comfortable talking to a therapist than a member of the family or teacher. They may be experiencing a wide range of emotions such as anger, anxiety, and sadness, or they may feel overwhelmed by what is happening in their lives and need help sorting through their feelings. This is where a therapist can help. There are many times when therapy can be helpful. Below are just a few examples of things a therapist can helo:
- Self-harm or self-injurious behavior
- Disordered eating
- Mood changes such as depression, worry, stress, and anxiety
- Family changes such as divorce or family issues such as addiction or alcoholism
- Trying to cope with a traumatic event
In short, there are many reasons to seek help from a therapist, and none of them are “bad” reasons. For your teen, deciding to seek advice for something they are going through can be very challenging. As a parent, it can be challenging to suggest or accept that your teen may feel more comfortable talking to someone other than you. This is not an indication of your failure as a parent. It is not uncommon for teens to feel more comfortable opening up about emotions and challenges to someone other than a parent.
For your teen, seeing a new mental health provider for the first time can be very uncomfortable. They are likely feeling nervous and skeptical about what this complete stranger can say or do that will improve their life. Your teen (and you) will have questions, and they should feel comfortable asking them regardless of how trivial and straightforward they may seem. To properly participate and get the most out of therapy, it is vital your teen feel comfortable with the person they are talking to. Below are a few questions your teen should feel comfortable asking their new provider.
1) Can I trust you?
Trust is the single most crucial element to the relationship between a teen and their provider. It is OK for your teen to ask their provider what happens to the information they provide and the things they say. If they do not feel comfortable that the things they share are confidential, they are not likely to open up or be truthful about their concerns and emotions.
For the most part, communication between a provider and their client remains confidential. The exception to this is when the client has revealed information that indicates they are an imminent danger to themselves or someone else or if the individual is expressly unable to care for themselves anymore due to their illness. In these cases, mental health providers (and other medical providers) are legally obligated to breach confidentiality for the sake of safety and protection of the client or the person the client wants to harm.
In this case, the word imminent is the key deciding factor around what remains confidential and what has to be disclosed. For example, a person can have suicidal thoughts, which, in theory, means they could be a danger to themselves without having a plan or intent. This is an important distinction. Merely stating one thinks about dying does not result in the need to breach confidentiality; however, stating thoughts of suicide and indicating you and bought or borrowed something to help follow through with a plan is an entirely different scenario. Therapists are also mandated reporters. This means they are required by law to disclose things such as child abuse or elder abuse if they come up in conversation.
During a session, your teen will likely see their provider making notes. They must know these notes are protected and require various levels of clearance to be viewed by providers other than the therapist. The details written in notes are often minimal and designed to help the provider direct future sessions.
2) Are you going to make me take medication?
For many teens, there are common stigmas and stereotypes associated with having to take medication for mental health conditions. Teens who are under treatment and taking medication are often viewed differently by their peers. Therefore, the concern about being “medicated” is at the forefront of a lot of teen’s minds. Questions around medication are very commonly asked at a first therapy appointment, and your teen should not hesitate to voice their concern.
Before prescribing medication of any kind, your teen’s therapist will ask a lot of questions. These questions will address your teen’s symptoms, other possible connected symptoms or co-occurring disorders, mental health history, family history, medical history, and social history (substance use, etc.). All of that information, combined with an in-depth conversation about what your teen is experiencing, will be considered before any form of medication is considered. Medication is not appropriate for all cases, and what may work for one person may have adverse effects on another. If medication makes sense, the risks, benefits, and alternatives to a specific medication will also be discussed.
In the end, even if medication is deemed beneficial, a therapist cannot force your teen to take medication if they are adamantly against taking it except in a very few highly emergent situations.
3) Does coming to therapy mean I am “crazy?”
Another common concern and misconception people have about attending therapy is that it means they are crazy or “have problems.” The reality is, many people see a therapist at some point in their lives. If your teen’s classmates were to be surveyed about their therapy history, many of their classmates have likely talked to a therapist of some kind at some point. Seeking help outside of parents and teachers for emotions and stressful situations is just as important to your teen’s overall health as getting help with a medical issue such as diabetes or asthma.
Seeing a therapist does not mean there is something “wrong” with your teen (of that you failed as a parent). Some problems are hard to solve alone. The reality is, it takes a lot of maturity and courage for your teen to look for healthy solutions to problems as opposed to ignoring them and allowing them to become a more controlling element of their lives.
Therapy is helpful to people of all ages and with problems ranging from mild to much more severe. Some people still hold on to old beliefs about therapy, such as thinking their teen will eventually “grow out” of their problems.
Additionally, your teen does not need to hide the fact they are going to therapy, but they aren’t obligated to tell anyone they would prefer not to. Some people find discussing their therapy with a few close friends helps them to feel as though they are not alone. Others choose not to tell anyone, especially when they feel others will not understand. Either way, the choice to discuss therapy is a personal choice for your teen to make, but merely attending therapy does not make them any different than their peers.
4) If I see you in public, what should I do?
This may sound like a strange question, but it is a logical one as well. It is quite likely your teen’s therapist and your family may live in the same community. That said, you may come into contact with one another outside of a therapy setting, so what is the “right” thing to do?
Most providers will err on the side of caution when interacting with patients outside of a therapy setting. There are several reasons for this, the most significant of which is stigma. As we mentioned earlier, there is a stigma (although unfortunate and unwarranted) associated with therapy and mental health issues. In a smaller community, people will likely know your teens therapy provider and what they do, so to see them interact with your teen in a public setting could propagate unnecessary assumptions about your teen. It could also remove the ability for your teen to keep their therapy sessions private if they so choose.
5) You have so many patients, how do I know I matter individually?
Truthfully, your teen’s therapist may see many patients each day. This is especially true if your teen’s provider works in a residential setting like that here at Hillcrest. Between individual and group appointments, it is not unreasonable for a provider to see a couple of dozen people in a day. However, the training your teen’s provider receives teaches them how to multitask and do so well. They are trained to look at each individual person and their private experiences as separate from their diagnosis and the diagnosis of others who may attend the same group session. A good therapy provider will give each patient the same attention, thought, empathy, and value with each interaction they have.
Unfortunately, there is no way to prove this to your teen or your family. The faith that this is how your provider operates will come with time and trust. This is easier said than done, especially early on in the provider/client relationship.
Attending therapy can be challenging for teens. Unfortunately, there remains a significant stigma associated with mental health and treatment for mental health conditions. This stigma remains stronger than ever for teens and adolescents. If your teen is struggling with mental health or emotions, seeking teen therapy may be a beneficial way to help get to the root of those concerns or determine the illness, which could be the source of their challenges. At Hillcrest, we offer a wide variety of treatment programs designed to meet the needs of your teen. Give us a call today.