Teen Therapy: Finding The Right Therapist

Adolescence can mean pain, pain and more pain. And some teens have a harder time coping than others. If this is your child’s experience, it’s only natural to want to find the best possible help.

But finding the right therapist can be challenging.

Talking to local experts, we gathered 3 guiding principles for finding a good therapist for your teen as well as specific questions to ask while going through the process.

Trust your instincts.

Choose someone who both you and your child trust, respect and enjoy. The therapist that was a great fit for your neighbor’s child might not be a great fit for your child, especially if the children aren’t grappling with the same issues. You may need to try more than one therapist before you find a good fit.

Dr. Diane Fisher, a psychologist with a private practice in Evanston, recommends steering clear of therapists with approaches that seem blaming, disempowering or alienating. She also recommends avoiding therapists who focus on diagnostic labeling rather than teaching kids skills and self-insights.

Be open to being involved throughout your child’s therapy if necessary.

Therapy isn’t like summer camp or day care. Simply dropping off your child isn’t usually an effective approach.

“Therapy can have a profound impact on a child’s life, and it is important that the parents be active from the beginning,” says Dr. Bob Noone, executive director of the Family Service Center. “I believe parents are central to a child’s well-being, and I would recommend choosing a therapist who would include the parent or parents in the therapy.”

Peggy Kubert, a licensed clinical social worker and executive director of the nonprofit Erika’s Lighthouse, which is dedicated to raising awareness for adolescent depression, says the level of parental involvement depends on the situation, and the therapist can help determine this.

Involving the family doesn’t have to mean everyone meets together. It may be more productive for a therapist to meet with the child individually and with the parents separately.

Bring your teen into the selection process.

If therapy is your idea and not your teen’s, be firm about your decision, but then give him or her some choice. Hopefully, the teen will feel some ownership and buy in. After you’ve screened some candidates over the phone and have a few that you like, give the phone numbers to your teen and let him or her screen further.

Good therapy cannot be done without a strong connection between the therapist and the teen, so parents need to be attuned to the teen’s vibe, says Dr. John Duffy, a psychologist with private practices in Evanston and Hinsdale.

It may take a couple of sessions to determine whether or not your teen will be comfortable talking to a given therapist. If a trusting connection does not begin to form, it may be time for a referral elsewhere.

For a complete step-by-step guide on how to choose a therapist for your teen, download the free “Parent Handbook On Childhood and Adolescent Depression” from Erika’s Lighthouse.

This was the first article in our three-week series on teenage mental health. We also profiled the courageous Claire Kaufman, a teen who used her experience with depression to raise mental health awareness at her high school, and described the pitfalls of teen therapy and how to deal with them.