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How Adolescent Counseling Can Help Your Teen

The teenage years – everyone goes through them. For many teens, it’s a time of transformation, personal growth, and self-discovery. The years between the ages of 12 and 24 allow your teen the time needed to learn not only who they are as an individual, but who they are inspired to be as an adult.

Unfortunately, this process isn’t always easy for every child; each develops at their own pace, getting there faster or slower than their peers. For those who advance quickly or get left behind, the process can seem confusing and overwhelming. This is just one of the many reasons today’s teens struggle with anxiety, depression, and panic disorders at a higher rate than previous generations.

Some teens just seem to struggle more than others, especially in relation to issues like self-esteem, body image, substances, or stress management. Others have complicated life history issues, such as trauma or abuse which make growing up even more challenging. Both groups deserve extra support to get through these tough years; that’s where adolescent counseling comes in.

Is Adolescent Counseling Right for Your Teen?

This is a complex question that requires a complex answer. Realistically, therapy is almost never a negative experience, even for those of us who consider ourselves well-adjusted and stable. Having someone to talk to who cares is priceless; even better if the professional clinician knows how to help you look at the bigger picture and process your feelings along the way.

Think of it this way: simply aging through the teen years is, in many ways, traumatic all on its own. Your child is learning to socialize, protect themselves, and move about the world in a more independent fashion, all while juggling immense pressure to perform. They’re attempting to keep their grades up, make new friends, enter the dating world, and plan for their future, all while attempting to deal with ever-changing emotions and a never-ending list of stressors.

That’s not even to mention the hormones.

Simply stated, if you’re questioning whether adolescent counseling is right for your teen, the answer is probably “yes.”

A Note on Warning Signs

Despite the fact that some teenagers seem to get through their teen years relatively unscathed, rates of depression and anxiety are quite high for this age group. You should always be watching for the most common warning signs; early intervention is crucial for recovery and illness management – the rate of which can improve with one-on-one and/or group counseling.

Be on the lookout for:

  • Sudden remarkable decreases in grades
  • Refusal to attend school (may indicate bullying)
  • Frequent physical ailment complaints
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (too much or too little)
  • Struggles around eating (too much or too little)
  • Pervasive anxiety around body image, weight loss
  • Aggression or violent outbursts (verbal or physical)
  • Self-neglect or personal hygiene issues
  • Finding drug paraphernalia/substances at home
  • Extreme stress reactions (crying or panic attacks) to everyday occurrences

These symptoms can point to the fact that your teen may be struggling with a mental health concern. Very often, counseling is all that’s needed to turn things around and get them back on track.

When is counseling most often needed?

Sometimes, warning signs and everyday stress aren’t the issue. You may already be aware that your teen struggles with mental health problems or a traumatic situation may suddenly occur. If any of the following situations arise, consider therapy as a must in achieving the best possible outcome.

Grief

Whether it’s a friend that passes away or a parent, teens aren’t often equipped to handle feelings of loss. For many, it is the first time they’ve experienced death first-hand; as much as it is with children, it can cause them to question their own mortality and that of those around them. Anxiety, panic attacks, and obsessive thoughts are all very common reactions, as are depression, sadness, and in some cases, suicidal thoughts.

To complicate matters, grieving teens may process their feelings in unusual ways. What can seem like a stand-offish teen that doesn’t care could just be a child who’s afraid to be vulnerable. Acting out – whether through aggression or risky behaviors – is also very common.

Counseling can benefit the grieving teen by providing a safe space from which to navigate their feelings. Although you may consider yourself as a “safe person” to whom the teen can speak, he or she may not feel comfortable burdening you further, especially if you were impacted by the death yourself. It’s often much easier to speak to a neutral third party; don’t take this personally.

Depression

An estimated 20 percent of teens will experience depression before reaching adulthood. This devastating illness comes in many forms and can carry insidious symptoms that don’t often seem obvious until it’s too late. Though many think of depression as “sadness,” the truth is that for at least some teens, it manifests as apathy, lack of motivation, and/or substance abuse problems instead.

Early intervention in teenage depression significantly increases disease management and outcomes; those who see a therapist early and often frequently move out of their depression later on down the road. For teens who are diagnosed with clinical or biological depression, therapy still has its place; it lets your teen learn how to manage their illness and symptoms while ensuring medication compliance and long-term safety, too.

Counseling is broadly indicated in any situation where stressors rise beyond what your child is reasonably capable of handling. However, what your child can feasibly handle alone without becoming depressed is likely a great deal less than you think. Teens tend to hide their feelings out of shame, so not seeing an obvious warning sign isn’t always a sign that everything’s okay.

Anxiety

Anxiety is common in the teenage years. It often manifests as social anxiety, a fear of interaction with others, and has its roots in a lack of self-esteem, past bullying or peer-related traumas, and other trauma-related histories. If your teen is demonstrating anxiety behaviors like avoiding school, refusing to spend time with friends, withdrawing to their room, having anxiety attacks, or showing extreme avoidance to other standard daily social tasks, adolescent counseling can absolutely help.

The biggest problem with anxiety is that it is often maladaptive. Your teen experiences anxiety in front of the class, and thus, avoids giving presentations. His or her grades suffer and a classmate makes a joke out of it. Suddenly, simply being in class is producing anxiety, too, so they begin to avoid class. Minor anxieties can unfortunately grow legs and turn into full-blown phobias, eating disorders, Avoidant Personality Disorder, and other negative coping methods.

A licensed adolescent therapist can help your teen to identify those feelings and look at them rationally before they occur. They can also give your teen the confidence needed to know that they can survive the feelings and get through anxiety attacks, which very often make the patient feel as if the world is ending.

These are just a few of the reasons why parents turn to therapy for teens struggling with negative emotions and behavioral problems. At its most basic, therapy allows all teens the opportunity to discharge their feelings in a way that’s healthy and productive. Weekly or bi-weekly sessions will provide your child with the guidance, support, and understanding needed to become an empowered and motivated adult once the teen years pass.


Chris Massman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. Chris' training includes Family Systems Theory along with numerous other theories. She believes therapy is an art and chooses the theory she feels will most benefit the individual sitting in front of her. Her specialty lies is in the field of Chemical Dependency and Addictions. Chris is currently seeing individuals, couples and families. Chris is a Clinical member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists as well as the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Chris has two locations including Tarzana and Agoura Hills, CA.