Return to all articles

Therapy for Teens

A teenager bathed in sunlight from the window, talking animatedly with her virtual therapist at her computer.

As someone who couldn’t get therapy as a teen, I know how needed it is. One in seven adolescents worldwide suffers from a mental health disorder. Teen therapy can help pacify the disorderly apadation to early adulthood and make it easier. I can’t go back in time to tell this to my teenage self but can always share the lessons I learnt in my therapy journey with other teens.

One of the first questions that comes to mind when you're curious about therapy for teenagers is “what can we expect in a typical teen therapy session?”

Common Issues Addressed in Teen Therapy and What to Expect in a Therapy Session

The teenage phase can sometimes push you into a labyrinth of little dark streets. So when there seems to be no way out, that’s when your therapist enters with a lamp and guidance. You can expect your therapist to kick off the first session with some questions about your life, school, family, health, self-worth, friends, mood and other related subjects. After that, your therapist can discuss goals and incorporate some techniques like cognitive-behavioral therapy, play therapy, or art therapy to address various issues. Some of these issues can be.


Low self-worth, peer comparison, family life/relationship, social status, grades and economical background are some of the causes for a teen to develop depression. Whatever the case is, teen therapy can be helpful. Your therapist may incorporate cognitive behavioral therapy, a kind of psychotherapy that links thoughts, behavior and feelings to propose various treatment strategies. To re-establish the connection between parent(s) and a child, reunification therapy might be used. The type of therapy is cause-dependent.


Perpetual anxiety if left untreated can turn into an anxiety disorder. Most people develop anxiety when they are adolescents so therapy for teenagers can be critical at this stage. Environmental stressors, bullying, abuse, societal expectations, peer pressure and parent-child relationship are some of the causes of anxiety. Even other mental health problems such as depression can cause anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, interpersonal therapy and psychodynamic psychotherapy are effective interventions for helping kids with anxiety disorders, so your therapists may use them or any other they see fit.

Self-esteem and Identity Issues

Chronic abuse and criticism, social isolation, financial stress, societal pressures, traumatic childhood experiences, social media comparisons and identity attacks are some of the common causes. More than 70% of the girls between the ages of 15 and 17, who are covered in this research, avoid engaging in regular everyday activities and even going to school when they feel bad about their appearance. A minimum of 1 in 3 first-year college students may suffer from a mental health issue. Cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy may be applied during your teen therapy.

Substance Issues

Poor mental health can prompt teens to use alcohol and other drugs as a crutch or vice-versa. Other times, it’s peer-pressure or their free will to fit in and appear a certain kind in the society. The long-term repercussions can be calamitous. Inpatient/outpatient rehab, medical detox, online rehab, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy and other treatments/therapies might be included depending on the intensity of this condition.

How to Go About Seeking Therapy As a Teen and How to Support as Parents/Guardians

Whether you’re a teenager or a parent wanting to comprehend the situation at hand better to figure out if a therapist can aid, recognizing some of the early warning signs can tell if your teen needs therapy.

As parents/guardians, educating yourself about mental health conditions your teen is going through is the starting point. Encouraging your kids to talk to you openly about anything they’re experiencing and being understanding are indispensable traits for you to evince. No matter the condition, it’s a pivotal phase to show love, empathy and care. With honest communication, active listening is equally important. Utilize various resources such as blogs, books, videos, online and local support groups, workbooks and apps to not just improve your own understanding of mental health but to also share it with your teen.

Things To Keep In Mind if You’re a Parent/if You’re a Teen

  1. It’s a good idea not to excessively pressure your teen to undergo therapy. “If teens feel forced into it by the parent, they feel like it's a punishment, or they're being made into the scapegoat for a family's dysfunction, then it doesn't matter how 'right' the therapist is for the teen,” says Melanie McNally, PsyD, clinical psychologist.
  2. Sophie Cress, licensed therapist, LMFT, encourages parents to give freedom to their kids when it comes to choosing the therapist and therapy goals/focus. “When teenagers feel like they are in control, they are more likely to participate positively in therapy.”
  3. Free will is key when it comes to continuing sessions after the first one or their consistency. This may sound counterproductive but can lessen the hesitancy or apprehension.

I always ask parents to request that their teen go at least one time just to meet me and then agree that after they meet me one time they don't have to go back if they don't want to.

Janet Anselmo-Henson, Psychotherapy, LPC
  1. McNally suggests gauging the mood first before talking to teens about therapy or anything related. “If you bring it up during a time of major distress or dysregulation, teens are likely to resist greatly. Make sure it's brought up privately and conversationally.”
  2. Being defensive and adamant are some typical teen traits. The last one was especially true for me. But being open to various solutions and perspectives can upgrade therapy outcomes. Cress says it solidifies therapeutic alliance between both people and allows therapists to introduce techniques or concepts to challenge existing beliefs.

Choosing the Right Therapist/Therapy for Your Teen and the Importance of a Good Fit

Therapy for teenagers starts with finding the right fit. One of the main roadblocks that can hinder the effectiveness of any programme is undesirable outcomes. It’s important that the professional gets you and also works as a team with you. This naturally trains the brain to be more optimistic toward therapy.

When you’re struggling with mental health problems, it can be challenging to open up even to a therapist. But the right one can make your presence feel welcome and silence feel heard. It's a two way street, so if you’re doing your part, the right professional would do the same.

The connection between a therapist and a teen greatly influences the treatment success. The point of any therapy is that you love going to one and it's possible when that partnership introduces the correct coping mechanisms to you, helps you grow personally and provides you with the necessary tools to flourish in the face of the difficulties that first prompted your therapy sessions.

It’s always crucial to keep in mind that just because the first therapist or the first few didn’t meet your expectations, doesn’t mean you’ll never find your match. The very first therapist I tried snapped at me in our first session and blamed me even for other people’s issues. My second therapist called me brave for taking the steps I took. Needless to say, I continued my sessions with her. Keeping your outlook even somewhat positive can help in eventually finding the one you feel satisfied with. While there’s no such thing as perfect, I now feel that I could have done even better that time with another/third therapist, and when/if you feel the same, go for it.

When to get in-person therapy:

  • When you feel you’d be more comfortable attending therapy sessions near you instead of being at home with other family members.
  • Teens with more severe mental health issues can get more assistance with in-person care.
  • Different types of art therapies such as dance, painting, music can be more beneficial at the center as the in-person therapeutic support can be more potent and it’s usually spacious.
  • It can be beneficial if you know you’d take a bit more time to open up as it can allow the therapist to read nonverbal cues.
  • Depending on your and the therapist’s personality, trust-building can be easier.
  • If you think work and home distractions are going to be significantly lesser in the therapist’s office.
  • Many online therapy platforms cover mental health in their insurances but not all of them. In that case, in-person therapy might be more affordable.

When to get online therapy

  • Online therapy can offer more comfort and a personalized safe space for the teens who get nervous in an unknown environment.
  • If you want to cut down on the cost of transportation, attend sessions on time and save some time as well.
  • It has proven to be more effective in providing better outcomes than in-person intervention for women in the latest research as it can also feel more secured to some.
  • If your social anxieties symptoms magnify, virtual therapy can be more therapeutic.
  • When one could just get on the laptop or a phone to chat with a mental health provider, it can organically reduce the stigma attached to going to therapy.
  • It’s much easier to sift and sort through a handful of therapists before you decide to move forward with someone. It’s also easier to switch if you already have one.
  • If you can't travel to an office due to a medical condition or an injury.
  • If you need mental health care for a short-period of time or it’s a one-off consultation.

How to Find a Therapist Who Matches Your Needs

Credentials to Look For

It can be fruitful to choose from a group of providers who are licensed and have significant years of experience under their belt. But sometimes, it’s not the number of years that determines the fit so it can be helpful not to restrict yourself to this and only certain titles like psychologist, therapist or counselor.

Therapist Specialties

When looking for good therapists, the assessment goes beyond the number of practice years. Attitude, cultural awareness, types of therapies they specialize in, the area they have expertise in, behavior, aura/vibe and their commitment are also important factors to consider.

Cost of Therapy

Consider your financial background and insurance before you screen therapists you want to try. Some therapists offer a sliding scale fee option for sessions so you can pick out accordingly.

Do online research and ask around

Online research and reading testimonials can help you find a good therapist. Listing your goals can be beneficial so you can evaluate better. Reaching out to the people who are already going to therapy and asking for suggestions is another solution.

Prepare important questions

Besides cost and credentials, the following questions can help you arrive at a decision—How have you helped people who were in a similar boat as I am right now? What’s your approach to helping someone like me? What kind of therapy do you practice and how is it going to be beneficial to me? Are you part of any network insurance?

How to Get Free/Affordable Teen Therapy and How to Get One Without Parents

Tapping into your network can springboard you into a pool of relevant providers—your school, place of worship (whether you’re active there or not), local counseling services/groups/programmes. Universities with free therapy services and online sites that provide volunteer-led support are also great places to start.

Cress suggests non-profit organizations and charities. “These organizations often run programs that offer free counseling services to teens, addressing issues such as anxiety, depression, and stress. Many of them also have hotlines or online chat services where teens can speak with trained counselors anonymously.”

You can also start with some video content on YouTube and narrow down the therapists who offer sponsorships for free 1:1 sessions or coupons for free mental health courses. Just about anything is possible to find online. Emma McAdam, a licensed therapist who runs a very popular channel on YouTube called Therapy in a Nutshell, offers coupons to buy her courses for free when you download her free therapy resources. Starting somewhere is the key.

Use your insurance provider’s directory to opt for an in-network provider to reduce out-of-pocket costs. It’s vital to find out the expenses you’ll have to incur after the discount. You can do this with Alma's insurance coverage cost estimator tool. On average, people who find care through Alma save 77% on the cost of therapy sessions.

There are a myriad of therapists you can have access to not just in-person but online too based on your location, budget and needs. Alma’s directory offers a wide range of mental health professionals. You can conveniently apply the filters to shortlist the ones who match your requirements.

Get stories and resources like this in your inbox.

Vartika, seated on a bench, looking over her shoulder at the camera.
Vartika Puranik

About the Author

Vartika Puranik is a writer and copywriter with her own marketing business. She focuses on content strategy and social media marketing. Her bylines have appeared on GirlBoss, SYFY NBC Universal, HuffPost, YourTango, Entity Mag, Bolde Media, The Right Hair Style etc. When she's done working on B2B technical projects, she gorges on everything and anything chocolate.

More blog posts

A man works at his coffee table to calculate the cost of therapy after finishing a virtual consultation.
A disappointed mother trying to teach her daughter a family recipe in her dimly-lit kitchen.
A therapist bonding a child she supports, playing a video game side-by-side.