How to Start Teen Counseling

The teenage years are a time when a lot of physical and emotional changes take place as young people make the transition from childhood to adulthood. Teens often face peer pressure as they navigate their way through friendships and romantic relationships. Some teens develop mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety disorders. Counseling for adolescents can help.

This article discusses online and in-person counseling for adolescents, including how it works, whom it helps, and what the benefits are.

Teen talking to therapist

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How Teen Counseling Works

Counseling for adolescents can be provided by a variety of mental health professionals, including social workers, licensed professional counselors, mental health counselors, peer counselors, and pastoral counselors. Counseling begins with the therapist establishing a trusting relationship with your teen.

The frequency of counseling sessions will vary based on your teens' needs. However, in the beginning, sessions are typically held weekly. These sessions can be in person or online.

Who Needs It?

The teenage years bring many emotional challenges—often referred to as teenage angst—and it might be difficult to tell whether your teen's mood swings and behavior are "normal" or a sign of something more serious.

In addition to mood swings, there are other behaviors that can indicate your teen is struggling and could benefit from a mental health evaluation and possibly counseling. These can include:

Suicidal Threats

Suicidal comments or threats need to be taken seriously and require immediate evaluation by a healthcare provider. Signs that your teen might be thinking about suicide can include:

  • Suicidal statements
  • Giving away personal possessions
  • Sudden onset of cheerful mood after prolonged depression
  • Suicide notes
  • Lack of self-care (not showering for a long time, not brushing their teeth, etc.)
  • Obsession with death and dying
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Risky behaviors

Online Counseling vs. In-Person Counseling

Counseling services were traditionally performed in person. However, with advances in technology, these services can now often be delivered online. There are benefits and potential drawbacks to both types of counseling.

Online Counseling

Online counseling provides many benefits. It is convenient and sessions can be held virtually anywhere that the Internet is available. Online counseling saves you the effort of finding a counselor who is close by and commuting to their office every week.

There are also disadvantages of online counseling. Internet connection issues can disrupt the flow of a session. Communicating over the Internet also comes with security risks, which can interfere with confidentiality.

During an online session, a counselor can't read your teen's body language (even if they are using video chat), which often provides important information about a person's emotional state. In addition, online counseling might not be covered by your insurance, which can make it expensive.

In-Person Counseling

In-person counseling is more personal than online counseling. The counselor can communicate with your teen without distractions, and will be able to interpret things that are not being said by watching your teen's body language.

If your teen is easily distracted, in-person counseling can make it easier to focus. In-person counseling is also more likely to be covered by insurance plans that offer coverage for mental health services.

Finding a Therapist

Looking for the right therapist for your teen presents its own challenges. There are several things to keep in mind, such as the therapist's education, training, and areas of specialty, as well as the types of services covered by your insurance.

It's also very important to find someone that your teen is comfortable talking to. Consider talking to your teen's doctor or school counselor and ask for recommendations. Using a reputable resource, such as the Psychologist Locator website produced by the American Psychological Association can help significantly.

Finding an online therapist can be a bit more risky. It's important to do your research and make sure they are a licensed mental health professional, qualified to work with your teen.

Summary

The teenage years are full of changes and challenges as a person transitions from childhood to adulthood. Counseling can provide teens with support and teach coping skills to improve their quality of life. Counseling can be online or in person, each having its own benefits.

Consult your insurance company to see if both in-person and online mental health services are covered. They can help you find a covered provider who is a good fit for you and your teen.

A Word From Verywell

Supporting an adolescent during the teenage years can be very stressful. Finding a counselor can help relieve that burden and give your teen a trusted third-party confidant to discuss their thoughts and feelings with. Counseling provides support to your teen and can help your teen learn new coping skills, which can significantly improve their quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much does counseling cost?

    The cost of counseling can vary significantly, depending on your geographic location and whether or not the services are covered by your insurance. On average, sessions can run from $60 to $120, but your out-of-pocket costs may vary.

  • What do you talk about in counseling?

    The topics discussed in therapy are limitless. Teen counseling could include topics such as peer pressure, self-esteem, relationships, and family struggles.

  • Are online therapists licensed?

    Not all online therapists are licensed. It's important to do your research before choosing an online counselor.

  • What is the difference between counseling and therapy?

    "Counseling" and "therapy" are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Counselors provide coaching advice to clients, while psychotherapists generally have more formal education and qualifications to treat mental health conditions.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mental Health America. Types of mental health professionals.

  2. Ogundele MO. Behavioural and emotional disorders in childhood: A brief overview for paediatriciansWorld J Clin Pediatr. 2018;7(1):9-26. doi:10.5409/wjcp.v7.i1.9

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Teen suicide.

  4. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Finding a mental health professional.

By Aubrey Bailey, PT, DPT, CHT
Aubrey Bailey is a physical therapist and professor of anatomy and physiology with over a decade of experience providing in-person and online education for medical personnel and the general public, specializing in the areas of orthopedic injury, neurologic diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy living.