Warning Signs that Your Teen Needs Counseling
The shrill ring of your cell phone rouses your mind alert as your limbs begin to shake off the stillness of sleep. It’s nearing midnight. Who could be calling?
It’s the parent of a student who goes to your teenager’s school. They sound panicked and are throwing words at you a mile a minute.
You hang up and rush to your teen’s bedroom to check on them. They are sleeping soundly.
The fuzzy details of the phone conversation play through your mind.
There was some kind of post on social media. Comments made by your kid about hurting themselves. A picture of pills. Concerning text messages were exchanged. A group of students were worried and didn’t know what to do.
They told an adult; the right kind of thing to do. Now that adult is alerting you.
Is your child in some kind of trouble? Is something wrong? Overcome by feelings of worry your mind races.
Wait, but nothing can be wrong. They are right in front of you in a peaceful state of slumber.
Then you start to consider your teen’s recent behavior and moods. What did the teacher say again? When was the last time you spoke without it turning into a shouting match.
Perhaps this scenario is a familiar one. There have been some signs, but you brushed it off as neurotypical teen behavior.
When someone else brings attention to your child’s well-being, it may be time to take action.
Concern of your child’s mental health may land on your radar anytime. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it is estimated that nearly one out of five adolescents has a diagnosable mental health disorder.
The warning signs might begin to emerge at home. You may notice something amiss with your teen through sudden changes in their appetite or sleeping patterns. Shifts in mood can be tell tale signs. Persistent irritability. Anger. Social withdrawal can be another red flag.
Perhaps a teacher or counselor reaches out alerting you about a comment your child made about hurting themselves, not wanting to live, or reports of a troubling scar that’s indicative of self-harm.
Being on the receiving end of such conversations can be fraught with emotion. Confusion. Fear. Denial even. And during such tough talks information can easily get muddied. Details are lost. Often parents feel shocked, baffled, and may turn blame inward as soundbites of the conversation play inside the mind.
So what are the next steps?
Do you link your child to a mental health professional?
This is terrifying for many parents and teens, alike. And even the most willing parents find themselves trying to overcome the stigma of seeking mental health support for their teen.
If warning signs are present, get a professional opinion. As a parent, you can’t assess whether or not a teenager needs treatment.
And if it turns out they are fit for treatment, the good news is that mental health treatment works. Suicide Awareness Voices of Education reports that 80-90% of adolescents that seek treatment for depression are treated successfully using therapy and/or medication.
However, it’s normal for parents to feel overwhelmed and unequipped to navigate the subsequent action items: finding a mental health provider, assessing costs and health insurance coverage, and logistically making it work with time, transportation, and other scheduled commitments.
Parents must realize they don’t have to handle the situation all alone. A parent can be instrumental in connecting their child to the kind of support they need.
Sarah Stark, a Licensed Professional Counselor in Herndon, Virginia, provides therapy to children, adolescents, and adults. Given Stark’s work with families she is familiar with parent uncertainty and hesitation.
Realizing how anxiety-provoking it may be for parents to release their child to a complete stranger for mental health concerns, Stark breaks down what counseling teens is all about.
How can therapy help my child?
Children face a wide range of issues in today’s world. From academic demands and stress to mood changes, relationship struggles and beyond, children are in need of developing coping skills and strategies to manage what the world throws their way. Children often do not tell others what stresses them out for fear of hurting people’s feelings or because they worry about rejection. Therapy offers a private, safe and objective third party intervention to help children better communicate how they feel and ultimately develop the skills needed to cope with whatever challenge they are facing. It is critical that children learn and use strategies that help them manage stressors, as those skills become lifelong advantages and keep them on a path of healthy living. When you bring your child to therapy, you are promoting growth that will last a lifetime.
Some of the benefits available from therapy include:
- Attaining a better understanding of yourself, your goals and values
- Developing skills for improving your relationships
- Finding resolution to the issues or concerns that led you to seek therapy
- Learning new ways to cope with stress and anxiety
- Managing anger, grief, depression, and other emotional pressures
- Improving communications and listening skills
- Changing old behavior patterns and developing new ones
- Discovering new ways to solve problems in your family
- Improving your self-esteem and boosting self-confidence
Why do people go to therapy and how do I know if it is right for my teen?
People have many different motivations for coming to psychotherapy. Some may be going through a major life transition, or are not handling stressful circumstances well. Some people need assistance managing a range of other issues such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, addictions, relationship problems, spiritual conflicts and creative blocks. Therapy can help provide some much needed encouragement and help with skills to get them through these periods. Others may be at a point where they are ready to learn more about themselves or want to be more effective with their goals in life. In short, people seeking psychotherapy are ready to meet the challenges in their lives and ready to make changes in their lives.
What is therapy like?
Because each person has different issues and goals for therapy, therapy will be different depending on the individual. In general, you can expect to discuss the current events happening in your life, your personal history relevant to your issue, and report progress (or any new insights gained) from the previous therapy session. Depending on your specific needs, therapy can be short-term, for a specific issue, or longer-term, to deal with more difficult patterns or your desire for more personal development. Either way, it is most common to schedule regular sessions with your therapist (usually weekly).
It is important to understand that you will get more results from therapy if you actively participate in the process. The ultimate purpose of therapy is to help you bring what you learn in session back into your life. Therefore, beyond the work you do in therapy sessions, your therapist may suggest some things you can do outside of therapy to support your process – such as reading a pertinent book, journaling on specific topics, noting particular behaviors or taking action on your goals. People seeking psychotherapy are ready to make positive changes in their lives, are open to new perspectives and take responsibility for their lives.
What about medication vs. psychotherapy?
It is well-established that the long-term solution to mental and emotional problems and the pain they cause cannot be solved solely by medication. Instead of just treating the symptom, therapy addresses the cause of our distress and the behavior patterns that curb our progress. You can best achieve sustainable growth and a greater sense of well-being with an integrative approach to wellness. Working with your medical doctor you can determine what’s best for you, and in some cases a combination of medication and therapy is the right course of action.
How do I find out if my insurance will reimburse me for therapy?
To determine if you have mental health coverage through your insurance carrier, the first thing you should do is call them. Check your coverage carefully and make sure you understand their answers. Some helpful questions you can ask them:
- What are my mental health benefits?
- What is the reimbursement amount per therapy session for an out of network provider?
- How many therapy sessions will my plan reimburse?
- Is approval required from my primary care physician?
How does confidentiality work?
Confidentiality is one of the most important components between a client and psychotherapist. Successful therapy requires a high degree of trust with highly sensitive subject matter that is usually not discussed anywhere but the therapist’s office. Every therapist should provide a written copy of their confidential disclosure agreement, and you can expect that what you discuss in session will not be shared with anyone. This is called “Informed Consent”. Sometimes, however, you may want your therapist to share information or give an update to someone on your healthcare team (your physician, attorney, school officials), but by law your therapist cannot release this information without obtaining your written permission.
However, state law and professional ethics require therapists to maintain confidentiality except for the following situations:
* Suspected past or present abuse or neglect of children, adults, and elders to the authorities, including Child Protection and law enforcement, based on information provided by the client or collateral sources.
* If the therapist has reason to suspect the client is seriously in danger of harming him/herself or has threatened to harm another person.
Parents may find it helpful to generate a list of questions to ask a counselor prior to initial meeting. This can be helpful in finding a counselor who is the right fit for your teen.
-How much time do you spend with parents if the teenager is the sole client?
-What’s your training and background?
-How can you involve me as a parent?
-How can you balance confidentiality and parent involvement?
-What is your view on medication?
-What is the typical duration of counseling for most clients?
-How do you handle an adolescent who is resistant to counseling?
-Would you involve other family members in the therapy?
*IT IS IMPORTANT TO REALIZE THAT IF YOUR CHILD IS IN IMMEDIATE DANGER YOU MUST SEEK PROFESSIONAL ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY. IF YOU CANNOT GET AN APPOINTMENT WITH A MENTAL HEALTH PROVIDER, YOU CAN TAKE THEM TO THE NEAREST EMERGENCY ROOM OR CALL 9-1-1.