Finding the "Right" Therapist for your Teen

Mar 13, 2019

When I was 15, my mom took me to see a counselor. She thought that I needed someone to talk with since I had been, hmmm, let’s call it acting out after she and my dad divorced.

She chose a therapist who was also a teacher at my high school  I was reluctant, but I knew enough about her to feel that she didn’t see me as a pain-in-the-butt teen.

Despite my initial reluctance, I liked her. It seemed like we were a good fit – even though the selection process seemed to be based on complete convenience since she was right next to the school. (My mom says it was that she just “felt right”.)

 Since that time, I have worked with many counselors – either doing my own work (yes, counselors need to do their work) or professionally. Over the years, I have learned two critical things when it comes to choosing a therapist: choose good over convenient and always trust your gut.

 Good and convenient do not often go hand in hand. You want a therapist who is good, not one who is just around the block. The bonus is that extra time it takes you travel to them can provide you the transition time needed before and after the session.

Second, pay attention to what your gut is telling you. Does the therapist just “feel right” or does he make you feel uncomfortable? Do you feel at home or are there warning signs? Your intuition will often give you signs of what will work for you.

 Before you get to those two points, though…

How do you search for a therapist?

Ask for referrals and recommendations.

Often people tell me that they heard about me through their friends or a parent on their child’s sports team or through a school counselor. Recommendations are helpful because your friend or family member can give you insight on the therapist that you may not get looking through a directory. Also, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor, dentist, school counselors. These professionals know you and your child and may be able to refer you to someone who is a good fit.

Search online.

Everything is online, and a few online directories to look are in Psychology Today and Therapist Finder. Look for therapists who are open about their philosophy and work style. Other things to consider when scoping out therapists online include: professional looking photo, gender, specialization, and training.

Consider theoretical orientation.

It’s like veritable alphabet soup when it comes to the letters behind a therapist's name. There are PhDs, PsyDs MDs, LMFTs, LPCs, LCSWs, and more. Then you’ve got the titles of psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, professional counselors, addictions counselors…you get the picture. It’s confusing, right? Instead, consider looking at theoretical orientations. Is your therapist a solutions-focused or family-systems oriented? Are they a cognitive behaviorist? If you aren’t certain what orientation you may want, just ask the therapist to explain his or her orientation and see if what he or she says resonates with you.

Look for a specialist.

A therapist who specializes is likely to have additional training on specific interests and issues pertaining to a particular demographic. If you need a therapist for your teen, look for someone who specializes in adolescents. And, a side note, if someone says they specialize in everything, they are not a specialist. They are a generalist.

Call them.

Whoa. In the ages of texting and messaging, did I just suggest making an actual phone call? Yes, I did. When you find a therapist that you want to call, actually call. And, be sure to make that call sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the more you will push this task aside. A few questions you may want to ask include:

– What is their training?

– What is their specialty?

– Have you worked with someone who (insert your presenting problem here)?

– Are they licensed?

– What is the session rate?

– Do they accept insurance?

The therapeutic relationship can be life-changing. If you don’t feel the connection with a therapist, keep looking. The right fit is out there.

And, now I’d like to hear from you. What questions do you have about selecting a therapist? Please share them in the comments section below.

And, as always, if you know someone who is looking to understanding teens on a deeper level, I’d be infinitely grateful if you passed this post along.

P.S.  Looking for support on navigating issues with your teen? I currently have two openings available for therapeutic coaching. If interested, please reply to this email. My 1:1 fill fast, and I often have a waitlist, so don’t hesitate to reach if you are interested.