So, how DO you pick a therapist for your teen?

Parents, you are not alone if you face this question and draw a blank. The truth is, finding a mental health provider for adolescents can be confusing. There is a big resource gap for parents who are looking for a therapist who specializes in the needs and development of teens. Many mental healthcare providers don’t specialize their services, instead functioning more like a medical family practitioner who will treat a wide variety of needs. Performing a Google Search asking for “teen therapists near me” result in Google grabbing therapists near you and not necessarily one who knows how to successfully work with adolescents. Most communities need, and support, large mental health institutions, but lack abundant outpatient voluntary services.

Although there are many historical reasons for this, here are the top three that I have seen in my almost two decades in mental health:

  1. Therapy and counseling for mental health has not enjoyed the unanimous community support of other healthcare disciplines. Mental healthcare, even in this day and age, struggles under societal stigma and those who seek it out have been inappropriately labeled as weak, or dangerous. We have made HUGE progress in this area; however, old mindsets die hard.
  2. Insurance companies were mandated to provide mental health reimbursements on par with the delivery of other healthcare services to their plan holders in 2015 in some states. Before that time, there were multiple exclusions and barriers to mental health care which put it financially out of reach for many families, and providers had no choice but to respond with limited services.
  3. Because of one and two, starting and maintaining a mental healthcare practice can be tricky. Insurance reimbursements rates to providers are still pathetically low for mental healthcare, and deciding how to create affordable care while needing to make a living is hard as a therapist who also runs a business. Most therapists who are balancing wearing all of the business hats naturally prioritize client needs over marketing, or otherwise increasing the visibility of their practice.


Here’s what to prioritize when you think your teen needs a therapist and you would like to easily explore the option:

  1. Look for a therapist or group who specializes in adolescent or family care. This professional will be targeting their obligatory annual continuing education and care management know-how to the adolescent and family population. They will know about the needs and resources available to adolescents that are evidence-based and relevant to your son or daughter’s treatment.
  2. Ask for a free consultation call. Getting a few minutes to hear how a prospective therapist might handle what your child is going through is immensely helpful if you know meeting a therapist might be nerve-wracking for them. A therapist who is willing to give you this kind of time for free knows how sensitive (and possibly expensive) this process is for families, and wants to be sure it’s a good fit for everyone involved.
  3. If the therapist you like doesn’t accept your insurance, ask about out-of-network benefits or what the therapist’s negotiated fee scale is. Marriage and Family therapists are held to industry ethics that obligate us to charge reasonable rates, making therapy as accessible as possible. While, as mentioned above, therapists are income-earners too, they should be sensitively and appropriately incorporating this ethic into their practice.
  4. Confidentiality and therapy. Ask a prospective therapist about how they include parents in the therapeutic process. I find that reassuring teens in my practice on a regular basis about confidentiality is essential for safe and productive therapy. However, adolescence is a very dynamic and tumultuous time in our lifespan, and often includes events or situations that require more supervision than I, as someone who sees them at most twice per week, can give. Knowing how your teen’s therapist includes you to mitigate risk and maximize positive therapeutic outcomes is essential.
  5. What if a few sessions have gone by and you realize that you aren’t finding the therapist/teen combo to be a good fit? Consider letting the therapist know either in person, over the phone, or in a voicemail. Therapists have an ethical obligation to provide therapy for their clients, and if they don’t know you no longer wish to be in therapy with them they are left guessing as to how they should proceed. Additionally, saying goodbye to someone your teen has put effort into sharing about themselves with can help them navigate future relationships with (hopefully) more ease.

Happy New Year to you and those you love and hold dear! And, whatever the reason, don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or concerns if you’re not sure what’s going on with your teen. Many welcome the idea of trying therapy out and are upfront about whether or not they think it’s helpful.




Photo credit: john-schnobrich-FlPc9_VocJ4-unsplash