Choosing a Therapist to Help Your Troubled Teen

Factors to Consider and Questions to Ask

Girl talking to a counselor
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A skilled therapist can support and help your teen deal with the problems they are having. There are a variety of therapists who work with teens so it’s helpful to know what to look for in finding the best fit for your troubled teen. Here are important factors to consider, essential questions to ask and the critical consideration you need to know about in choosing a therapist to help your teen.

Factors in Choosing a Therapist

When you are deciding on a therapist, consider these factors:

  • Choose a therapist who has expertise and experience in dealing with teens. Teens aren’t junior versions of adults; the problems they have and the way they deal with them are unique to this age group.
  • When possible, get referrals to a specific therapist that is recommended by someone who has personal knowledge of that therapist's personality and skills. 
  • Search online for teen therapists in your area and carefully review their websites for information about how they work with teens and details about their practice.
  • In most cases the therapist should be licensed. There are exceptions, such as a trained religious or drug counselor, but note that insurance companies will usually only pay for sessions facilitated by a licensed mental health professional.
  • Consider the therapeutic approach and training of the therapist. There are many different ways to treat teens so familiarize yourself with the different approaches and make your choice based on the issues your teen is struggling with and the background that makes the most sense to you. 
  • Think about the specific qualities your teen may need in a therapist. Are they likely to respond best to someone who is direct and to the point, or to someone more nurturing and supportive? Is there a preference for a male or female therapist? Is age a factor for your teen? Will they work better with someone young and energetic or benefit from a therapist with more experience?

    Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

    Interview potential therapists by e-mail, over the phone or in a face-to-face meeting. Some therapists will conduct an initial consultation at a reduced cost so you can meet them and have your questions answered. 

    Asking the following questions will provide important information and give you a better sense of how the therapist will work with your teen to help facilitate positive changes:

    • What experience do you have with the particular problem my teen is struggling with?
    • How long have you been in practice?
    • Describe how you will work with my teen.
    • Will other family members be involved in the therapy process?
    • What license do you have and is it current?
    • How do you establish goals for therapy and measure progress?
    • Are you a member of a professional organization?
    • Can you explain the therapy approach you use?

    After getting answers to these questions, consider how well the therapist has described their approach and how they come across in doing so. Ask yourself: Does the therapist seem to know what they are talking about?

    Do they seem to have genuine empathy for teens? Are they patient in answering your questions? How do you feel when talking to them?

    The Most Important Factor of All in Choosing a Therapist

    Experience and credentials are important, but it’s usually the personality of a therapist and the therapeutic rapport that develops between teen and therapist that is the most important factor of all. 

    This relationship is ultimately the most critical factor in a therapist being able to successfully provide help to a troubled teen. In choosing a therapist, ask yourself which person is most likely to be able to bond with your teen. Pay close attention to your gut feelings in making your decision.

    Additional Considerations in Choosing a Therapist

    Ideally, your teen needs to be part of this process, even when you are the one insisting they participate in therapy. In most cases it works well for parents to do the work of getting referrals and doing the initial screening. Then provide this information to your teen and let them make the final decision. 

    If after a few sessions the relationship does not seem to be coming together, it may be necessary to go through the process of choosing again or asking the therapist to refer to someone they think will be a better fit.

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