For teenagers especially, it’s important to involve them in the process of getting professional help, starting with the initial conversation about why therapy might be necessary.
Below, we’ll offer some tips about how to choose a psychologist, offer some answers to questions that you and your teen might have about therapy, and walk through the typical process of working with a psychologist.
It’s not uncommon for teenagers to develop mental health problems—in fact, one in every five teens has some type of mental health problem in any given year.1 If your teenager is showing signs that he or she is suffering from an anxiety disorder, it’s important to enlist help from a psychologist as part of your efforts to help him or her feel better. During a formal evaluation, a licensed psychologist can determine if your teenager is experiencing an anxiety disorder, and if so, he or she can determine what type of disorder and help generate long-term solutions to manage it. Alongside trusted friends, parents, teachers, and school counselors, your teen’s psychologist is part of the team dedicated to helping him or her manage and ultimately move beyond those debilitating feelings of anxiety.
To help determine if your teen needs professional help and how to find it, you may want to read Getting Professional Help for Your Anxious Child: When and Where to Find a Psychologist first.
How do I find the right psychologist for my teenager?
Once you and your teenager have made a decision to seek out a psychologist, you’ll want to meet with a few (either via phone call or in person) before making an appointment. You can get recommendations for a local psychologist from sources like your teen’s teachers, school counselor, or family doctor. The APA Psychologist Locator is another useful tool to find vetted and licensed psychologists in your area. Once you’ve found a couple options that seem like a good fit, set up an initial phone call or in-person meeting so that you and your teen can discuss his or her issues with the psychologist. It’s important for teenagers to be able to ask questions about a psychologist’s qualifications, and to get an understanding of the psychologist’s role as well as their own. Some questions you and your teen may want to ask include:
It’s important for teenagers to be able to ask questions about a psychologist’s qualifications, and to get an understanding of the psychologist’s role as well as their own.
- Is your professional training in medicine, counseling, social work, or psychology?
- Do you have experience working with adolescents?
- Do you have experience treating anxiety and anxiety disorders?
- Will you keep personal information private and share it only with the people you feel are essential to inform?
- What work will I need to do on my own to complement the work we do during therapy sessions?
- Will you help me set clear goals for reducing my anxiety that are realistic and make sense to me?
- Will you be open to feedback from me about ways to improve the psychotherapy if I believe it is not helping?2
How can I help prepare my teen for an initial therapy session?
If all goes well and you and your teen feel like a psychologist will be a good fit, the next step is to set up an appointment for an initial session. This session should be thought of as a getting-to-know-you meeting, but it’s common for teenagers to have questions beforehand. Below are some concerns that might come up, along with some helpful information you can share with your teen.
- Will I have to take a test or be examined for the psychologist to know what’s wrong with me? Probably not. Some psychologists might ask you to fill out a questionnaire, while others might just ask questions and take notes. In some cases, a doctor can prescribe medication, so before doing that, he or she might want you to have some medical tests or give you a physical exam to make sure you’re healthy.
- Will the doctor tell my parents, teachers, or anyone else about what I say in therapy?
What you tell a psychologist is confidential, but because you’re under the age of 18, your parents have the legal right to talk to your doctor without your permission. It’s a good idea to talk about this with your parents before you start therapy and decide together what information stays between you and your psychologist, and what can be shared with your parents, teachers, and other people.
- Will I have to take medication?
Some doctors may recommend that you take medication in addition to receiving counseling. You can talk this over with your doctor and your parents so that you understand why medication is being recommended in addition to therapy.
- What if I decide I don’t like the psychologist?
It’s a good idea to attend a few sessions to determine if the psychologist can help you. If you’re still not connecting after several sessions, you can talk to your parents—or even to the psychologist—to try to figure out what’s not working and if you should find someone new.
- Why can’t I just talk to someone I already know and trust?
While your friends and loved ones can be a great support, they may have other roles and responsibilities that keep them from being fully available to you. It’s also not easy for them to be objective when giving you advice. On the other hand, a psychologist’s job is to put your interests and well-being first, and to be objective when advising you. A psychologist who has experience helping teens will also know which tools and advice will be most effective and helpful.3
Finding the right psychologist or other qualified mental health professional for your teenager and working as a team to help him or her manage anxiety can be a long process, but it’s crucial to a happier, healthier life. For more information on finding and working with a psychologist, see the APA-approved books recommended below and on the Magination Press Bookstore page.
Related Books from Magination Press
My Anxious Mind: A Teen’s Guide to Managing Anxiety and Panic
Can you spare 30 minutes to feel less anxious?
Go ahead. Think about how your life would be different if you were less anxious. What would change? Would you try out for the basketball team? Ask someone out on a date? Would you sleep better and feel less tense? Would you feel calmer and happier?
My Anxious Mind outlines a simple and proven plan to help you understand and deal with your anxiety and panic. It is chock full of simple-to-use tools and strategies that easily fit into any teen’s busy routine. (ages 12-18)
How to Find Mental Health Care for Your Child
In How to Find Mental Health Care for Your Child, seasoned child psychologist and author Ellen B. Braaten offers clear and expert guidance to help anxious parents navigate the complexities of mental health care.
Divided into three thorough and well-organized parts, the book first provides an overview of the issues involved in diagnosing and treating children. It then gives detailed information on the most common childhood disorders and addresses key symptoms, possible causes, and treatment options. In the final chapters, Dr. Braaten discusses the primary treatment approaches in more depth, such as their typical course, what disorders they are used to treat, and how to determine their effectiveness.
Parents seeking the best mental health care for their child will learn what other parents did in real situations when confronted with similar problems and will be reassured, supported, and empowered throughout their journey.