When it comes to counseling, many people are a little hesitant to come in to speak to a complete stranger about their deepest, darkest fears and problems.  They may be leery about what to expect, how the session will be structured, and how they are going to tackle their issues.  Especially for teenagers, this can cause some anxious feelings and they may be hesitant to discuss their world with someone they’ve just met.  That’s why, this blog discusses the importance of bringing your teen into counseling and what types of techniques you can expect to see.  As a parent, it may be reassuring to have an idea of what their teen is doing in their sessions after they are dropped off at their appointment.  Many teens tend to be quiet after their sessions and may want to keep what they did or discussed to themselves.  Hence, this article will help not only teens understand what to expect, but also for parents to have an idea what goes on behind the scenes.  Obviously, due to confidentiality, therapists do not share what is discussed in the session.  It’s important that teens feel comfortable talking about whatever is on their mind without worrying it will be repeated.  In serious situations, however, confidentiality may be broken and the therapist may need to speak to parents, but this is discussed with the teen beforehand.

Anyway, let’s jump right into it.  Below are a list of typical strategies and techniques that many counselors use to help teen clients.

1.) Building Rapport

First and foremost, the most important part of any counseling session is making sure you build a strong rapport and relationship with your client.  Typically, at the first session, a counselor and adolescent will simply chat and get to know one another.  Icebreakers are generally used in these types of cases and the counselor tries to create an atmosphere of comfort at the office.  It is vital to make sure the client feels content discussing their issues without feeling judged or criticized.  Building a genuine connection and learning about each teens like/dislikes, social group, hobbies, etc. is vital to build genuine trust.  Counselors will ask teens questions and will simply get to know the person for who they are.   When a strong bond is built between client and therapist treatment will be more effective.

2.) Replacing Negative Self-Talk with Positive

For many teens, some of the reasons they may come to counseling in the first place may be due to low self-esteem and/or confidence issues.  Some clients tend to think the worst about themselves and may consistently repeat or give themselves negative feedback.  They may also be prone to self-blaming or thinking they will fail, which can cause decreased confidence as well as anxiety, depression, etc.  A common technique therapists will use is helping to teach teens to reverse their negative tendencies into more positive thoughts.  Many clinicians will encourage a client to write down their negative thoughts at the beginning of their appointment and then change the list into a positive one at the end.  By doing this frequently, it is hoped that each teen will boost their confidence and start developing a more habitually positive mindset.

3.) Group Sessions

Many teens sometimes feel alone with their feelings and may feel as though they are isolated with their issues or that no one understands.  Group sessions are important because it may help clients feel connected to one another and can provide insight that other people are also struggling with similar problems.  Group sessions can help to create bonding and team building strategies to overcome issues together.  Group sessions can be extremely beneficial due to the fact that clients no longer feel alone and can take comfort in knowing that other teens are able to relate.

4.) Games

You may be wondering, games?  Why games?  I know it sounds silly, but hear me out.  These days, many teenagers are overwhelmed with the stressors of prepping for college, dealing with school assignments, popularity, and keeping up with social media, friends, etc.  Deep down, however, many of these teens are still kids at heart.  It can be extremely helpful to play a low key and stress relieving game to help teens feel young again.  Due to their being a lot of societal pressures on today’s youth, this is vital to help them alleviate stress in a fun and exciting manner.  Don’t get me wrong, it is great to have deep conversations at times, but on the other hand, sometimes a teen just needs to be able to relax and breathe for a moment.  By instilling games into therapy sessions, this can allow a teen to remember happy moments from their childhood and can remind them to steer away from rigid and perfectionism type thoughts.  Sometimes fun and laughter is the best medicine!

5.) Music

Music can be a helpful technique to use in counseling sessions for teens.  Music tends to bring up a lot of emotions for people – depending on the song, music can make you feel either happy, sad, angry, nostalgic, etc.  I like to encourage my teen clients to pick a few songs that they feel relate to the current events in their life.  Once they do that, we listen to the song together and I ask them which lyrics make the biggest impact on them and why. Through songs, we can learn a lot about what may be going on in the mind of a teen and what themes they tend to have.  For instance, many teens choose love songs and it turns out that their sadness is due to a boy or girl not liking them back, a breakup, etc.  Music can provide a great deal of insight and then encourage the therapist to direct the conversation in a specific direction from there.

6.) Worksheets

Worksheets can be of benefit in a counseling session for a teen because it helps to outline specific behaviors and tendencies that may need to change.  When a teen sees their problems written out on paper this can help them to process what is really going on in their mind.  Sometimes, just writing a problem out on paper can also be therapeutic because it’s a way for a teen to release the tension and hard feelings they may have been holding on to.  Worksheets that encourage brainstorming to solve problems and to track behaviors or moods are some of the typical forms used.  Others may include describing cognitive-behavioral models, how to change misconceptions, and common negative thinking patterns.

7.) Talking

I saved this one for last because it is certainly the most obvious.  Talking is a main component of treatment with teens.  Sometimes, there need not be an agenda or specific activity for each session, however, just a place where a teen feels comfortable discussing whatever is on their mind.   Sometimes it can just be therapeutic for a teen to vent and get the hard stuff off their chest.  In talk therapy, the client usually gets the floor, however, the therapist will be sure to ask open- ended questions and develop a strong understanding of each clients beliefs and perception of their world.   By talking through hard subject matter, teens may gain clarity and just feel better by having a safe place to discuss their concerns and problems.

Keep in mind, these are just a few common techniques that therapists use when counseling teenagers.  Obviously, each individual is different and not all techniques work for everyone.  That is why the therapist works to cater to each individual and their unique needs.  Treatment is a collaborative effort and the therapist discusses with the teen what they feel would work best.  The therapist and teen will develop a treatment plan and track goals together.