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Teenage Mental Health: Recognizing the Signs Your Teen Might Benefit from Therapy

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The teenage years can be a tumultuous time. It’s the perfect storm of hormones, raging emotions, and distorted perspective, as a child slowly transitions into the teenage years. For some teens, normal teenage angst can turn into a major mental health issue that is so overwhelming they don’t know where to begin, or how to cope.

School, family life, and social pressures can all take a toll on teens who are struggling to understand their own emotions and how to deal with them in a healthy way.[1] This is when therapy can be extremely beneficial to teens, but still many ask, “How do I know if my teenager needs to see a therapist?”

As a parent, you want to believe that your teen doesn’t need help or that you are able to handle every situation they encounter on your own. But if they’re suffering in silence and refusing to talk with you about their feelings or problems, it is difficult for you to recognize the core of their struggles and help them in the way that they need.

This is why it is important to find a therapist who specializes in working with teens, as they are able to understand the teen’s perspective, have experience working with this age group, and are familiar with the best strategies to communicate with them in a way that your teen will be able to open up and connect about their innermost thoughts and feelings.[2]

What Is Teen Therapy?

There are many different types of therapy, but teen therapy is unique and keeps many parents asking “Does my teen need therapy?” Teenage years are a time when teens are learning how to think for themselves and exert their independence.

They are also pursuing new friendships, relationships, and activities that they may not feel confident about or comfortable engaging in. This is why it is so important to have a therapist who can listen, support your teen, and give them the guidance they need before making difficult life decisions.

Although everyone experiences their teenage years differently, there are some problems that teens commonly struggle with:

  • Self Esteem Issues: Teens can struggle with low self-esteem and a lack of confidence in themselves. This often stems from issues such as bullying, depression, or anxiety that cause teens to question their worth and abilities.
  • Addiction: Addiction to opioids, alcohol, and other harmful substances do not start in adulthood. Teens (and those younger) struggle with addiction and a world that provides plenty of access to hazardous, illegal drugs.
  • Anxiety: Teen anxiety can take many forms, such as a social phobia or dealing with everyday stressors that seem too difficult to handle.[3]
  • Depression: Teen depression is on the rise, and can stem from a lack of self-esteem, social anxiety, or a traumatic event that is too difficult for them to cope with.
  • School Issues: Struggling to fit in at school, bullying, and difficulty making friends are all common problems that can be overwhelming for teens who feel like they don’t belong or don’t know how to reach out.
  • Conflict with Parents: Difficulty communicating and dealing with their parents can be overwhelming for teens who just want to be treated as an adult.
  • Trauma: Whether it’s a past trauma that still haunts them or something that is currently happening in their lives, many teens struggle with the aftermath of a traumatic event and don’t know where to turn.

How to Know if Your Teen Needs Therapy?

The teenage years are a time of change and growth. It can be difficult for teens to navigate their way through these changes, and it can be very helpful for them to speak with a mental health professional about what they are going through.

As a parent, you might be constantly Googling, “What are the signs of a troubled teenager?” as it can be difficult to tell if your teen is struggling with an issue that requires professional help. But there are some signs you can look for that could indicate your teen might benefit from therapy:

  • Unexplained or Irrational Fears: If your teen is experiencing irrational fears or panic attacks that they cannot explain, it may be a sign of anxiety.
  • Social Withdrawal: A loss of interest in friends, school, and activities they once enjoyed is a sign that your teen might be suffering from depression or low self-esteem.[4]
  • Excessive Anger: A teen who is having anger issues may be experiencing depression, anxiety, stress, trauma, or a host of other problems.
  • Self-Harm: Self-harm behaviors, including cutting or harming themselves in any way, are often an attempt to deal with the pain they are feeling.
  • Unexplained Changes in Behavior: A sudden change in behavior, such as becoming quieter and more withdrawn or more aggressive and confrontational, can be a sign that something is bothering your teen.
  • Mood Swings: Mood swings that are out of the blue or seem unreasonable for any given situation can indicate deeper issues.
  • A Decline in Grades or School Performance: Exhibiting a decline in academic performance or showing an unwillingness to attend school can be signs that your teen is struggling with social problems, depression, anxiety, or other issues.
  • Isolating Themselves from Family and Friends: A loss of interest in family and friends is a classic sign that your teen might need extra space alone to deal with the internal problems that are invisible to everyone around them.
  • Sudden Loss of Motivation: When a teenager suddenly becomes less passionate about the things they once loved and retracts themselves from participating, it can be a sign that there is something deeper going on that needs help.
  • Personality Changes: If your teen has been acting out more, being disrespectful towards others, or has become less empathetic and caring as they once were, it might be a sign that they are struggling with something that is causing them to lash out.
  • Drug and Alcohol Abuse: If your teen is using drugs and alcohol excessively, it might be a way of coping with the pain, stress, or trauma they are facing.
  • Changes in Eating Habits or Appetite: If your teen has become pickier about what they eat, or is avoiding meals altogether, it could indicate a deeper issue.
  • Low Self-Esteem or Poor Body Image: They have developed a negative body image or are having issues with their self-esteem due to bullying from other teens or from themselves.

Why It’s Important to Talk about Mental Health in the Household

Many people have been hiding their mental health problems from themselves and others for a long time. This is especially true in teenagers who might be trying to fit in and not stand out. Talking about addiction and mental health with teenagers is important because it helps them learn that they aren’t alone, and that they can get better if they need help.

It is important that we are able to talk about our mental health because if we’re not careful, these things can spiral out of control and cause us physical harm in the process. Mental illness does not just affect one person – it affects families and friends too.[5] The sooner someone receives treatment for a mental illness, the better chance they will have at getting well again.

Teenagers can learn to cope with mental health problems by watching others around them who have been struggling with addiction or other issues and gotten better. Parents who are open about their own mental health struggles will help their children feel comfortable talking to them if they are struggling themselves. If your teen is having signs of mental health problems it’s important to talk about the following with them:

  • What they are feeling
  • What they might be going through if their behavior has changed
  • That it’s normal to not feel happy all the time
  • That it’s okay to ask for help
  • That there is no shame in getting help

Many teens feel like they are the only ones who are struggling with mental health problems, but this is not true. Talking about mental health with teenagers is important because it helps them know that there are other people who have been through what they might be going through right now.

What Are the Benefits of Therapy for a Teenager?

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There are many benefits to seeking therapy for your teenager. Therapy is a safe place where teens can talk about their feelings, struggles, or thoughts without judgment. Teens who struggle with mental health will feel better after talking to a therapist, and it can even help them develop coping skills if they are having trouble dealing with their mental health issues in school or at home.

Therapy is a great opportunity for teenagers to talk about what they are going through and to learn how they can move past it. Therapy might be the best option if your teenager has been struggling with their mental health for a long time and they’re not getting better. If your teenager is having thoughts of hurting themselves, therapy will be the best option to make sure that they are safe and get the help they need.

Some common benefits teenagers realize after therapy include:

  • Improved mood
  • Better sleep habits
  • Decreased stress levels
  • Safer environment to express oneself without judgment
  • Greater self-awareness
  • Improved coping mechanisms
  • Decreased physical symptoms of stress, anxiety, or depression
  • Enhanced self-esteem and confidence
  • Improved communication skills
  • Improved ability to self-soothe and regulate their emotions, thus reducing outbursts
  • Better grades at school/reduced difficulty in school
  • Decreased feelings of isolation
  • Increased self-care practices (hygiene, diet, etc.)

The Different Types of Therapy for Teens: How Can a Teen Get Therapy?

There are a wide variety of therapy options for teenagers, and it’s important to talk with your teenager about what kind of therapy they would be interested in so that you can find a therapist who uses that method. Most therapists will let you know what kind of therapy they specialize in, so it’s okay to ask about that before your first session even takes place.

Therapy options for teenagers include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is based on the belief that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are linked, and that our thoughts impact how we feel and what we do. The goal of CBT is to change a person’s negative or destructive thinking patterns in order to improve their mood and behavior.[6]

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a type of talk therapy that helps people understand and change the thoughts and behaviors that are causing them problems. DBT focuses on teaching skills to manage emotions, reduce self-destructive behavior, improve relationships, and enhance overall quality of life.[7]

Family Therapy

Family therapy is an important part of therapy for teenagers because if they are having trouble at home or issues at school, then it’s important to get the whole family involved in therapy. There are many different types of family therapy that can be used for teenagers, and it’s important to find a therapist who specializes in family therapy for teenagers or has experience working with families.

Play Therapy (PT)

Play therapy is a form of therapy that uses play to express emotions and work through problems. This type of therapy is best for young children who haven’t developed language skills. However, it can also be used with teenagers to help them express their thoughts and feelings in a less threatening way.[8]

Sand Tray Therapy

Sand tray therapy is a type of therapy where the client makes “scenes” out of sand in trays. The scenes are used to express feelings, work through problems, and help the client understand their own emotions better. Sand tray therapy can be done individually or with a group of people working together. Teenagers who do not like to talk or express themselves verbally, commonly benefit from this type of therapy.

Self-Care Therapy

Self-care therapy is a type of therapeutic treatment that focuses on helping teens learn more about themselves and improve their self-care habits. This type of therapy is often used for teens with eating disorders or other types of mental illnesses that cause them to struggle with self-care. This type of therapy can be used in conjunction with other types of therapies to help teens improve their mental health and wellness.

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Teen Counseling

Many parents ask themselves “Does my teenager need counseling?” Counseling is a very general term for therapy that can be used with teenagers. Counselors are trained to help their clients work through problems or issues by talking with them, but their approach will depend on the counselor’s own personal style.[9] Some counselors are more talk-based while others are more hands-on, but most counselors will work with teens to help them improve their coping skills and self-esteem.

Psychiatric Consultations

Psychiatric consultations are appointments with a psychiatrist when teens need medication or inpatient treatment. Psychiatrists will meet with teenagers to discuss their symptoms, any mental health concerns, and agree on a treatment plan together. Psychiatrists are doctors who can prescribe medication to teenagers when needed.

Crisis Intervention

Crisis interventions are appointments with a therapist when someone is in crisis. A therapist will meet with teenagers to assess their symptoms, discuss any mental health concerns, and help them through the crisis. Crisis interventions are a very short-term approach and are meant to help teens through a difficult time to prevent them from entering a more severe state of crisis.


A planned intervention involves a teen’s family and an interventionist. It may or may not involve a teen who is actively using substances and alcohol. The interventionist takes the opportunity to educate the family and loved ones about addiction (sometimes in combination with mental health issues) and recovery. It’s a chance to take controlled and measured steps during a time that’s highly emotional.

How Can I Get Help for My Teen?

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There are many ways teenagers can get the help they need to recover from a mental illness or addiction. If you have noticed that your teen is struggling or needs help, you can take them to their doctor for a mental health evaluation.

If your teen’s symptoms get worse and they are showing signs of more serious mental illness, they may need to get psychiatric care or go into the hospital. If you are worried that your teen is in crisis, you can always call a therapist or the doctor to discuss your concerns. Being proactive and getting help early can prevent a teen from developing more severe mental health problems.

What Can I Do to Help My Teen Through Therapy?

One of the best things you can do for your teen during therapy is to be a supportive parent. If you are open and understanding with them, they will feel more comfortable opening up about their mental health. If you are patient and understanding, your teen will feel more willing to work on their issues and learn new coping skills.

If your child is going through a tough time, try not to take their symptoms personally. Many mental illnesses are biological and cannot be controlled by willpower or motivation alone. Even if your teen is not open to talking about their mental health, you can still be supportive by taking care of them and making sure they are staying healthy.

Start Seeking Mental Health Relief for Your Teen Today

As your teenager continues to navigate the emotional and complex life stage of young adulthood, it is important to recognize any signs that might indicate your teen is struggling. Join our addiction and recovery community for additional information, resources, and help.

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