How to Choose the Best Therapist for Your Teenager

According to the website About.com, a website that offers expert advice and quality content that helps users find solutions to a wide range of daily needs – from parenting, health care and technology to cooking, travel and many others, there are some things to know before choosing a therapist for your adolescent son/daughter.

Expert Kathryn Rudlin, LCSW, a clinical social worker, lists a number of important factors to consider before choosing a therapist:

  • Choose a therapist who has expertise and experience in dealing with teens. Teens aren’t junior versions of adults; the problems they have and the way they deal with them are unique to this age group.
  • When possible get referrals to specific therapists recommended by someone with knowledge of their personality and skills.
  • Search online for teen therapists in your area and carefully review their websites for information about how they work with teens and details about their practice.
  • In most cases the therapist should be licensed. There are exceptions, such as a trained religious or drug counselor, but note that insurance companies will usually only pay for sessions facilitated by a licensed mental health professional.
  • Consider the therapeutic approach and training of the therapist. There are many different ways to treat teens so familiarize yourself with the different approaches and make your choice based on the issues your teen is struggling with and the background that makes the most sense to you.
  • Think about the specific qualities your teen may need in a therapist. Are they likely to respond best to someone who is direct and to the point, or to someone more nurturing and supportive? Is there a preference for a male or female therapist? Is age a factor for your teen – will they work better with someone young and energetic or benefit from a therapist with more experience?

Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

Interview potential therapists by e-mail, over the phone, or in a face-to-face meeting. Some therapists will conduct an initial consultation at a reduced cost so you can meet them and have your questions answered.

Asking the following questions will provide important information and give you a better sense of how the therapist will work with your teen to help facilitate positive changes:

  • What experience do you have with the particular problem my teen is struggling with?
  • How long have you been in practice?
  • Describe how you will work with my teen.
  • Will other family members be involved in the therapy process?
  • What license do you have, is it current?
  • How do you establish goals for therapy and measure progress?
  • Are you a member of a professional organization?
  • Can you explain the therapy approach you use?

After getting answers to these questions consider how well the therapist has described their approach and how they come across in doing so. Ask yourself: Does the therapist seem to know what they are talking about? Do they seem to have genuine empathy for teens? Are they patient in answering your questions? How do you feel when talking to them?

ACS’ Program director of On-Campus Counseling, Roni Gillenson LMFT adds two other important things to consider when choosing a therapist.

  • Ask the therapist to review confidentiality and limits to confidentiality
  • Ask what the therapist will and will not share with the parent.  I think this is important for the parent to know upfront what to expect from their child’s professional relationship with a prospective therapist.

The Most Important Factor of All

Experience and credentials are important, but it’s usually the personality of a therapist and the therapeutic rapport that develops between teen and therapist that is the most important factor of all.

This relationship is ultimately the most critical factor in a therapist being able to successfully provide help to a troubled teen. In choosing a therapist ask yourself which person is most likely to be able to bond with your teen and pay close attention to your gut feelings in making your decision.

Gillenson strongly agrees that the most important factor of a teen-therapist relationship is the rapport that they develop. Another very important factor is the possibility of including the entire family.

Family work may be indicated and for families to be open to that recommendation. ACS takes  a family systems approach (among other approaches) and values and welcomes the parent’s involvement; whether that means family therapy, conjoint family therapy, family group or possibly couples therapy.  The family should ask themselves how involved or not involved they want to be in their child’s treatment.  Families/parents should feel comfortable to ask prospective therapists for referrals for family and/or couples therapy.  It’s always best if the family is working together on their issues whether it be together (i.e. family therapy) or in conjunction/parallel to their child (i.e. couples counseling, individual therapy for themselves,   parenting group).

For more information on the therapy available at Adolescent Counseling Services (ACS) go to
www.acs-teens.org/programs/general_counseling.php.

Also for a complete version of the About.com article go here

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