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  • Writer's pictureRachel Ruiz

How Teens Can Connect and Thrive in Therapy

Why choosing a therapist your teen likes matters and can increase the effectiveness of therapy.

brick building with sign "how are you, really?"

Therapy for teens isn't only about relaying the events of the week; it's a journey of connection and discovery, and the relationship with the therapist is a big part of making it an uplifting and productive experience. Here's why a good fit connection is so crucial:

First, teens are all about socializing. They're figuring out who they are through their interactions with others, which makes any relationship, especially the one with their therapist, critical to their engagement. Think of it as a friendship with a purpose - a space where they're heard and understood, which is gold for any teenager.

Second, teenagers are at a stage where they don't just take things at face value anymore. They value genuine care and interest from adults. When a therapist shows that they truly care, teens are all ears. It's about earning their trust and showing them their thoughts and feelings matter.

Third, talking about tough stuff isn't easy for anyone, let alone teenagers. But when they feel that strong connection with their therapist, diving into those challenging topics becomes a whole lot easier. With trust comes intention, and teens open up more honestly and readily when they know they are not judged and welcome to discuss any issue in their life.

Now, let's tackle some FAQs that might be on your mind:

Do you just talk to my teen about their day?

  • Not exactly. While we might start with how the day went, it's all about peeling back the layers to understand their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It's a conversation tailored to help them grow. Being casual and conversational is important to get teens to begin opening up, but typically once they are comfortable, they can start sessions right away focused on resolving concerns and taking steps toward personal goals.

How do you set goals with a teenager?

  • Goal setting is a team effort. In the beginning of therapy, we chat about what they hope to achieve and break it down into actionable steps. It's about giving them the reins to steer their journey, with guidance to keep them on track. Teens often have setbacks that are a normative developmental process. Just because they take a few steps back, that doesn't mean they won't progress. Often times teens will take the leap of faith to change thoughts, feelings or behaviors once they feel really secure that adults will "catch" them if they fall. Time and patience is much needed.

Will they work on anything in therapy, or is it just about "venting"?

  • Therapy is much more than a venting session. While expressing emotions is a big part of it, we also work on strategies and skills to tackle the challenges they face. It's about empowerment and building resilience, turning those venting sessions into moments of learning and growth. A more directive therapist will draw out life lessons and ask thought-provoking questions so that teens can develop a sense of who they are and what matters to them. There are times when "venting" is helpful, but oftentimes it's more productive to redirect to appropriate problem solving. It is perfectly okay to "get things off your chest" in therapy, as it does help us to organize and prioritize more effectively.

My teen doesn’t say anything about what they learned in therapy or what they’re working on. Does that mean it’s a waste of time?

  • Privacy becomes much more precious during the teen years, and sometimes they are working on incredibly vulnerable topics such as self esteem, dating relationships, conflict resolution with parents, and future planning. Instead of prying, re-affirm what’s beneficial about the therapeutic process – “I’m so glad you have a safe space to share.” It’s also okay to encourage a teen to talk to their therapist about something, or ask permission to share what’s going on in their lives with a therapist. Some teens may need that “kick start” from the therapist to dive into deeper topics.

Therapy is an empowering space for teens, shaped by a meaningful connection with their therapist. It's about listening, understanding, and walking alongside them as they navigate the ups and downs of their life, turning each session into a stepping stone towards growth and self-discovery.

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