Therapy for Teens: What to Expect

From the WebMD Archives

If you are going to see a therapist, the following Q&As can give you some insight into what to expect. Keep in mind that many teens are in therapy today, trying to gain greater insight into the way they think, act and react.

Q. Am I "Crazy" If I Go to Therapy?

A. Having therapy does not mean you are crazy! At least 1 in 5 teens (20%) have mental health issues. Doctors and therapists treat mental health problems just like any medical problem. For instance, if you break your leg, you go to an orthopedic doctor. If you have an earache, you see an ear, nose, and throat specialist. If you are depressed, anxious, or need someone to talk to, you go to a therapist.

Q. What Is Mental Health?

A. Mental health includes how you act, feel, and think in different situations. Teens have mental health problems when their actions, feelings, or thoughts regularly create obstacles in their lives. Everybody has times when they think or feel something that they don't like. Other times, people do things that other people don't like. Both of these situations are normal. But when the unwanted thoughts, feelings, or actions regularly create problems, there may be a mental health problem. Counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists are people who help others with mental health problems.

Q. Why Do Teens Have Mental Health Problems?

A. Mental health problems can be caused by many different things. Some common causes include"

  • Medical conditions. Some medical conditions can make you think, feel, or act strangely. If you go to a doctor or psychiatrist for a mental health problem, they will first check whether a medical condition could be not causing the problem.
  • Violence. When something bad happens to a person, or they see something bad happen, they can develop a mental health problem.
  • Stress. Everybody gets stressed out. Some stress can be helpful (like motivating you to study for a test). But too much stress can cause problems.
  • Losing a relationship. If someone close to you dies, moves away, or doesn't want to be friends anymore, it is normal to feel sad or lonely. Usually these feelings get better over time. But sometimes they worsen, or affect other parts of your life.

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Q. What Are the Types of Therapy for Teens?

A. There are three main types of therapy for teens: individual, group, and family. Sometimes, people will do combinations of therapy, such as individual and group therapy. The type of therapy you have depends on the problem(s). Here are some details on each:

  • Individual Therapy. In individual therapy, you meet with a therapist alone to talk about your problems. Each session lasts about 50 minutes. The therapist may ask you to identify your feelings about the problems. And you might get "homework" that will help you work through the problems. Everything you say in therapy is confidential, unless the therapist has good reason to believe you might hurt yourself or someone else. Sometimes, it can be helpful for your therapist to talk to your parents or your school counselor about a problem.
  • Group Therapy. Group therapy allows you to see how other teens handle their problems. You will also practice new ways to handle your own problems. Starting out in a new group can be a little scary because you don't know the other people. But after a few sessions, you will probably feel more comfortable. Usually, there are about five people in each group with one or two leaders. The group leaders will bring up topics and ask questions. But you are free to ask your own questions and get answers from the group. Group therapy sessions usually last about 90 minutes.
  • Family Therapy.With family therapy, you and your parents (and sometimes your brothers and sisters) go to therapy together. Because everybody is there, you can work on problems that affect the family. The therapist will discourage interrupting, and make sure everyone gets to voice their concerns.

Q. How Long Does Therapy Last?

A. Most therapies do not have a set time length. Some problems resolve very quickly. Others are more complex and take longer. Usually, therapy will last at least three months if you go once a week. For some problems, you might be in therapy for a year. Even though therapy can take a long time, you should notice progress.

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Q. Will I Feel Uncomfortable Talking About My Problems?

A. It is normal to feel awkward talking about sensitive things. The uncomfortable feeling means that you are trying something new. As you get used to meeting with your therapist or group, you should get more confident.

Q. What If I Don't Like My Therapist?

A. Having a good relationship with your therapist is one of the most important parts of therapy. Sometimes people just do not get along well with a therapist, and you should know in the first session or two. If you don't like your therapist, it is OK to try a different one.

Important Notes about Therapy

Some things to keep in mind about therapy include:

  • The therapist won't solve your problems. Therapy is helpful if you work hard with the therapist. The therapist supports you, and suggests helpful ways to work on problems. But if you don't work at solving the problem, the therapy won't work.
  • You should never have a sexual relationship with your therapist. If a therapist makes sexual contact, either by saying something or by touching you, tell them no and tell your parents what happened. Any type of sexual contact in therapy is inappropriate
WebMD Feature

Sources

SOURCES: National Institute of Mental Health website. MedlinePlus: "Teen Mental Health."

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