Does Your Teen Need To Start Therapy?

June 26, 2020

Some people pass through adolescence and their teen years easily and swiftly, with minimal challenge or turmoil. For others, the arrival of puberty brings about change, and sometimes these changes can be difficult for both teens and their parents to manage. Inevitably, guilt or blame begins to factor in as parents try to understand how and why their teen has changed. Unfortunately, blame, fault, and finger-pointing are often short-term solutions to what could be a longer-term problem.

From mood swings to school difficulties, all teens have problems and experience anxiety and depression from time to time. However, sometimes, your teen’s distress could rise to a level where it is essential to consider therapy as an option. Therapy does not need to be reserved for life-altering events or issues related to severe mental health problems. On the contrary, meeting with a therapist early on could help prevent minor issues from turning into major ones.

There are many reasons a teen may benefit from meeting with a therapist. They may have questions, concerns, or fears they are not comfortable discussing with a parent or teacher. They may simply want to talk to someone about their emotions or feelings without feeling judged or worried about how their parent may “feel” about what they have to say. Below are several reasons why teens often go to therapy.

1) Depression

Teens experience depression as a regular part of growing up. This is known as developmental depression. Sometimes this depressive stage is triggered when teens realize life is fragile and things can change suddenly. As teens begin to understand mortality and recognize that loved ones and they themselves are vulnerable, it can start to darken their outlook on life.

Though this stage of developmental depression can cause unease and unrest, it is a healthy and necessary part of development. Developmental depression has several symptoms or features, including mood instability, feelings of sadness, loss of interest in some (but not all) pleasurable activities, social anxiety, and occasional changes in sleep patterns. Developmental depression is a stage that your teen will generally progress beyond as they grow.

Atypical depression is the other form of depression often seen during the teen years. Conditions that exacerbate developmental depression can evolve into atypical depression. Atypical depression often results from increased levels of emotional distress as well as other emotional disruptions such as

  • Undiagnosed learning disabilities
  • Illness or injury
  • Trauma
  • Rejection by social circles
  • Parental conflicts (either conflict with parents or conflicts occurring between parents)
  • Death of a loved one
  • Moving or changing schools

Unlike developmental depression, where teens experience tolerable levels of sadness and mourning, atypical depression overwhelms teens with crushing despair and unmanageable mental tension. Also, unwelcome feelings of rage, frustration, powerlessness, and hopelessness occur.

2) Anxiety disorders

It is entirely normal for teens to worry from time to time. However, some teens experience intense and debilitating anxiety. When your teen is experiencing abnormal levels of anxiety, you may notice their level of worry escalating to the point where they are visibly bothered. They may also avoid particular activities or situations or may engage in a pattern of behavior (such as repeatedly checking the door to see if it is locked). If you are noticing increased levels of worry and fear in your teen, therapy may be useful next step.

3) Behavior problems

Sometimes “common” teen activities or challenges to parental authority may be indicators of more severe problems. Things like repeat curfew violations, aggressive behavior, and repeat suspensions from school may all be signs of an underlying mental health disorder. A therapist such as those here at Hillcrest could help your teen talk through their feelings and potentially uncover mental health issues, social issues, or skill deficits that may contribute to your teen’s behavioral difficulties.

4) Substance abuse issues

Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol can quickly become serious problems for teens. Experimentation with drugs and alcohol is (also, unfortunately) all too common among adolescents today. However, if your teen is coming home drunk or high on a regular basis, it is vital to seek therapy immediately. The need for action is even more essential if your family has a history of substance use disorders.

5) Stress

Teens experience stress just as frequently as adults, but often for different reasons. For teens, things like pressure to pass an exam or concerns about their future after graduation can be stressors that can take a serious toll on their mental health. Therapy programs like those here at Hillcrest can help your teen learn to manage stress successfully. The ability to cope with and manage stressful situations will not only benefit them during their teen years but for the rest of their lives because, as adults know, stress doesn’t go away as you get older; it just changes its source.

6)School and social issues

The school system provides not only a wealth of knowledge your teen will need as they grow but a wealth of emotional challenges as well. Bullies, failing grades, cliques, personal relationships, and teacher-related issues are just a few of the social-related problems teens may experience during their school years. Most teens are not usually sure where they should turn for help when these events or situations arise. Therapy can provide teens with a place to speak freely and with the support and skills they need to navigate the challenges of high school successfully.

7) Legal problems

One nightmare every parent has is getting a call from local law enforcement about their child. This fear runs a very close second to the worst fear, which is getting a call from the emergency room. Stealing, underage drinking, or reckless driving are just a few of the reasons teens find themselves on the wrong side of the police car doors. Sometimes, therapy will be mandated by probation. Other times, therapy will be a condition set forth by their parents. Either way, time spent in counseling can help teens learn to make healthier and safer choices so that future legal issues can be avoided.

8) Low self-esteem

Most teens struggle with self-confidence issues at some point during high school. This is an entirely normal part of teen development, and often, teens can work their way through the emotions that come with these struggles. Some teens will experience serious self-esteem issues. When these issues are left unaddressed, teens are at a higher risk of other mental health problems such as substance abuse disorders and disordered eating.

Most teens eat (a lot) and do not often choose the healthiest of foods. Throughout their teen years, they will experience several growth spurts and normal fluctuations in weight. However, some teens will appear to be regularly eating but are losing or gaining weight at an abnormal pace. While a change in your teen’s weight may not be a cause for immediate concern, it should be monitored. If you find your teen is engaging in disordered eating behaviors such as binging and purging, restricting food intake, or exercising excessively to burn off the calories they consume, then therapy should strongly be considered. Disordered eating can be dangerous (and in some cases fatal) as it can lead to other medical problems and mental health issues.

9) Trauma

Whether a near-death experience, witnessing a violent crime, being the victim of a violent crime, or losing a loved one, traumatic events can have a lifelong impact on a teen. Therapy can help your teen find ways to increase their resilience and minimize the effect the traumatic event has on their life,

10) Talk of self-harm (or harming others)

Comments such as “I wish I were dead” or “I should just kill myself” are red flags that you need to be immediately concerned about. For some teens, this is a statement used when they cannot come up with the right words to describe their emotions. For others, this is indeed a serious cry for help. Regardless of which it is, they are not statements to be taken lightly or ignored. Teen suicide (especially among girls) is on the rise, and statements such as these are not merely your teen “being dramatic.” All such threats, suggestions, or attempts demand professional attention from a trained professional.

11) Asking to go to therapy

If your teen asks to go to therapy, they are verbalizing that they need and want help. As a parent, this can be a challenging time. You may feel as though you have failed or let them down in some way. In reality, this is allowing you an opportunity to provide them with the best support they need at this time. Helping them to make contact with a compassionate and experienced California adolescent treatment center team can open the door to healing and learning for your teen. At Hillcrest,  teens will learn to talk about their emotions and what has led them to therapy. They will learn coping mechanisms for when events or situations arise that trigger negative emotional responses. Also, they will have the opportunity to learn and communicate with other teens who share similar experiences. These interactions allow them the opportunity to expand their social circles and learn from others who are at a different point in their recovery.

First Session - Therapy - Hillcrest

A few more notes

The list of reasons teens seek (or should seek) therapy we outlined above is not exhaustive. Because an item appears or does not appear on the list does not meet therapy may or may not be a beneficial thing for your teen. This list should not be used in place of mental health advice from a trained professional or as a do-it-yourself diagnosis chart for your teen. This list can help you look for patterns in your child’s behavior and determine if therapy is a logical next step.

If you are questioning whether therapy is right for your teen, err on the side of caution and contact us at Hillcrest to learn more about our Agoura Hills teen treatment programs. We can work with your family to determine if therapy is right for your teen and what the next steps could be.