The relationship between a therapist and a client is important for building the trust necessary for healing. Choosing the right therapist for your child is an important step, and with teenagers, it is typically best to allow them some “voice” in the process.
Where do we begin? First, have a talk with your teen. Find a comfortable place where you can focus. You can say, “I’ve noticed you’ve been feeling ____, and I want to get you set up with some extra support from a therapist.” It is important to be honest and open and set the right tone. Let them know that you love them, and there is no shame in getting support with behaviors or mental health challenges. It is also important to listen to your child’s concerns. If they are feeling nervous, angry, or upset, ask them to tell you more about how they are feeling.
Collaborate with your teen if possible. You can ask your teen:
- “Is there any kind of therapist you’d prefer?”
- “Do you care about the sex or gender of your therapist? Some people want to have a female therapist or a male therapist. Does this matter to you?”
- “I am going to make a list of therapists and then I’d like you to look over them with me.”
The next step is to make a list of possible candidates. You can do this by:
- Asking for referrals from your family physician, school counselor, or other community support.
- Asking friends or co-workers with children if they have any good recommendations.
- Asking your health insurance companies for providers that are “in network” or how they will reimburse you for the cost of therapy for “out of network” providers.
You can also utilize internet search engines such as Psychology Today, Mental Health Match, or Inclusive Therapists (among others) to look for providers in your area. These search engines allow you to sort by zip code, online vs. in-person therapy, gender, insurance, etc. They will also provide you with a blurb or a short summary of the therapist’s specialties.
Some things to look for include:
- Do they work with children and adolescents?
- Do they have experience with the issues that your teen is going through?
- Does their rate per session fit your budget, or do they offer a “sliding scale” or lower rate adjustments?
- Do they see clients after school, on weekends, or during school hours?
Some folks utilize special techniques such as Play Therapy, Art Therapy, or Animal Assisted Therapy (with a dog or animal in the room!) Some therapists specialize in certain issues such as grief support, eating disorders, divorce and family changes, or LGBTQ+ identity. Be on the lookout for the issues that impact your child.
All those letters!
Therapists have different backgrounds and specialize in different things. Here’s a quick overview of what some of the acronyms or “letters” mean.
- Fully licensed therapists may have the letters LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist), or LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker).
- Therapists with master’s degrees in counseling or psychology who are working towards being licensed (under supervision for thousands of hours), may have the letters LPC-A or LMSW.
Some types of therapy include:
- CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)- learning how to reframe your thinking, self talk, etc.
- DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy)- learning skills of mindfulness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance (crisis survival), and interpersonal communication.
- EMDR (Eye Movement Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) – therapy that helps with trauma experiences, utilizes body and eye movement.
- SFBT (Solution Focused Brief Therapy)- learning how to problem solve a short-term issue.
After you have a short list of possible therapists, show them to your teen. You can read the therapist’s website or look at their profile online together, and ask your teen about their impressions. Most therapists offer a free 15-minute consultation, so you can also try talking to a couple folks to see if it feels like a good match.
Finally, it is important to stay hopeful during this process! Some therapists may have a long wait list, or only offer certain hours. Encourage your child to be patient and flexible, and let them know that you are going to figure this out together. It may take some time to find the right person- and you can let your teen know you will be with them every step of the way!