By Thomas Maye
Mental health counseling is a crucial part of treating mood disorders, so a therapist-client relationship that does not pan out can feel especially crushing.
But the road to recovery isn’t always straightforward and it often takes a number of tries before finding the right therapist for your teen. For myriad reasons, the first time may not provide the relationship your teen is looking for.
People in therapy need to remember that they aren’t defective or incurable just because one counselor wasn’t a fit. People change counselors all the time. As difficult as it may be to call it quits with your child’s current therapist, it’s important to put their mental health first and be able to recognize when a different professional may be able to better address their needs.
So how do you know if you need to make the switch?
Here are five questions to consider.
1. Does your teen feel comfortable opening up to them?
Given the highly personal and private nature of therapy, it’s normal for people to have some level of reserve talking about the details of their sessions. But as a caregiver, you want to be sure that your teen is benefiting from their therapy. There may be a slow start to their process because it takes time to build trust when discussing vulnerable topics. As such, it’s important for parents to realize it often takes multiple sessions for their child to get to a point where they can open up about their issues with their counselor.
Still, therapy is fundamentally a relationship between the client and the counselor. Sometimes relationships just don’t come together, through no fault of either party. Different personalities, communication styles, and approaches don’t always resonate.
For therapy to be effective, a person needs to feel like they are understood, safe, and supported. While some initial tension is common, feeling at odds every session or spending every hour in awkward silence are likely signs of an ill-fitting therapist-client relationship. And while not every session will result in a life-changing epiphany, conversations shouldn’t constantly stagnate.
2. Do they behave professionally?
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a spike in demand for mental health providers, posing significant – and understandable – challenges for therapists and counselors. Some occasional slip-ups, like showing up a few minutes late for an appointment, are unavoidable. Help your teen to clearly communicate any issues they have with their therapist’s behavior to try to reach a resolution, or to find out if seemingly problematic behavior might have just been a misunderstanding.
But after your teen expresses their concerns to the therapist, does the therapist still make a habit of missing appointments, showing up chronically late, acting inappropriately, or failing to pay attention during their sessions? If so, it’s probably time to say goodbye.
3. Do they value input on the course of treatment?
As a concerned parent and caregiver, you will want to understand your teen’s therapy. Regardless of your child’s age, you will not hear the full content of your teen’s sessions unless your teen would like to share them with you. However, despite privacy protections, your teen’s therapist should be willing to discuss their methodologies and treatment philosophies. At the same time, your teen’s therapist should be willing to hear and respectfully discuss your concerns about treatment, so long as they don’t encroach on client confidentiality.
There also may be times a teen feels upset after a session and is unhappy with their therapist. While it is reasonable (and often helpful) that a therapist will bring up difficult topics and push their client out of their comfort zone, they should generally stop short of causing a teen to abandon their own values. Everyone deserves to feel that they can speak up and understand why certain decisions are being made over others.
4. Do they understand your child’s identity and culture?
Although approximately 84% of therapists are white, a growing number of practitioners have recognized the need to offer safe spaces for marginalized communities, including racial and ethnic minorities and people who identify as LGBTQ+.
As long as they are open and accepting, a therapist doesn’t necessarily need to share every aspect of your teen’s cultural background in order to treat them effectively. However, for many people, being able to speak about oppression and cultural challenges with a shared dialogue can significantly improve self-understanding and feelings of belonging. Databases like the Psychology Today “Find A Therapist” tool allow you to filter by patient characteristics, such as different ethnicities, genders, and sexualities, to help simplify the search process. There are also specialized population-specific directories, such as the online directory Innopsych for people of color. Visit our website for more resources on finding therapists, http://familyaware.org/education/finding-care/.
4. Is their approach helpful for any other mental health conditions your child may have?
Some mental health conditions that frequently co-occur with depression and bipolar disorder, such as addictions and certain personality disorders, require specialized treatment methods that may fall outside of their current therapist’s expertise. In other words, some depression treatments may not be the most helpful for clients who live with additional mental health disorders. While treating the underlying depression is essential, failing to account for conditions occurring at the same time as the mood disorder could limit your teen’s progress overall.
It may be that your teen does well with the first therapist they meet. If not, take the time to find other providers that are a good fit and can help your teen progress in their treatment. It’s worth the effort.
Thomas Maye is a freelance writer passionate about mental health, wellness, and social justice. Based in Hudson, MA, he graduated with a degree in English and journalism at Framingham State University in 2020. He can be contacted for article and blog writing assignments on his website, tmayewriting.wordpress.com, or his Twitter, @tmayewriting.