It’s difficult to know sometimes whether the behavior of your child is worth bringing to a mental health professional. Besides, your child is a teenager now, and perhaps all of this is a part of adolescence. Maybe the changes in his or her eating habits, sleeping habits, social skills, and mood swings are all a part of the growth taking place during adolescence.
Well, this is partly true. Yes, adolescence brings drastic changes – physically, emotionally, psychologically, and even spiritually. However, there are some factors to look for to determine whether bringing your teen to a therapist is best. For instance, the following circumstances can indicate whether the emotional distress your teen is experiencing warrants professional assistance:
When a teen’s situation:
- disrupts his or her daily functioning
- threatens to overwhelm the child
- interferes with the achievement of age-appropriate developmental milestones
For example, if you and your spouse were divorcing, a child, depending on his or her age, might respond in a variety ways. However, some teens may move through the change easily with little effect on his or her emotional or psychological wellbeing. On the other hand, some teens might suddenly do poorly in school, develop a fear of sleeping alone, experience heightened anxiety, or demonstrate signs of depression. In this case, therapy could be very useful for the teen.
In the above example, it was perhaps obvious that a teen was struggling because of the divorce. Yet, there are many situations in which parents see the signs – failure in school, symptoms of depression, risky behavior, or an increase in anxiety – without the circumstances that could be triggering those concerns. Most experts would agree that if you’re seeing your child do poorly in school and it’s uncharacteristic of them, or if you’re witnessing your teen not function well in his or her life, therapy is warranted and likely needed. A parent might not know of an event that happened at school or within a teen’s peer group that could have triggered psychological symptoms.
In other situations, a teen might be facing a problem that is usual for adolescence, such as living with a terminal illness or experiencing the loss of a parent. These cases would also warrant therapy. The support of a therapist can provide a teen with coping and social skills as well as a safe relationship in which a teen can explore his or her feelings and thoughts.
However, there are times when seeking mental health treatment isn’t best for a teen. Many adolescents do not want to be identified as having a problem. They don’t want to be recognized as being depressed or anxious or bipolar. They would rather fit in with their peer group. Of course, therapy is a confidential service and a therapist cannot disclose that services are being offered to any particular individual. Yet, for a teen, just going to therapy is almost like wearing a neon sign indicating that there is a problem with his or her mental health. Therapy carries a stigma for some teens and they might be humiliated by the idea of it.
For this reason, if there are no significant concerns that might be harmful to a teen, then parents should discuss therapy with their child prior to scheduling an appointment. Teens are at an age in which independence, maturity, trust, and autonomy are important to them. Although they might not yet demonstrate the earning of these traits, they are important to them nonetheless. Talking to your teen ahead of time and having an open and honest conversation would allow your child the opportunity to express his or her feelings about participating in therapy. Furthermore, that conversation might open the door to a greater conversation about what is happening in your child’s life that might be the source of your concerns.
Therapy can be a wonderful tool during life transitions, such as adolescence. Knowing when to utilize it will support both your teen and your parent-teen relationship.