“Finding a good therapist is extremely hard. Finding a good teen therapist can be even more challenging.” So begins the article from my colleague, Uriah Guilford. (Uriah is an adolescent psychotherapist and parent coach in California.) Take a look at his list of “4 Criteria for a Good Teen Therapist.”
Note: As his practice focuses on adolescent males, the article speaks about sons, rather than daughters or children.
4 Criteria for a Good Teen Therapist
Uriah Guilford, Adolescent Psychotherapist & Parent Coach
Finding a good therapist is extremely hard. Finding a good teen therapist can be even more challenging.
If your teenage son is struggling and truly needs additional support, this will take some of the confusion out of finding the right person to help him.
Here are four things you need to consider when looking for a good teen therapist.
1. Find a specialist.
Here is a little known secret: Most therapists really don’t like teenagers. That being said, you want a therapist who both likes working with teens and has a good amount of experience doing so.
There are many generalist therapists out there who will list off all the folks they work with: individuals, couples, families, kids and teenagers alike. They may be good therapists, but I wouldn’t choose them for my child. Why? Because it is very difficult to be excellent at serving all those types of people and specific issues.
Find someone who specializes in working with adolescents, enjoys being with them, and is thoroughly immersed in their unique issues.
Note: Make sure you also find someone who is a licensed mental health professional with either a Master’s or Doctoral level education.
2. Find someone you trust.
You are entrusting your son’s emotional wellbeing to a therapist who is limited in what he can share with you due to confidentiality. You need to be able to trust this therapist. Beyond your basic intuition, you want to look for signs of credibility and trustworthiness:
Do they have a website?
Do they return your phone calls and/or emails promptly?
Do they listen to you and answer your questions?
Do you think the therapist will support and encourage you, and also be honest in giving you feedback about your parenting style?
All of these questions matter. It can certainly help if you get a referral from a source you trust, whether that is your doctor, your girlfriend or a family member. Whatever it takes, make sure that you find someone you truly feel you can trust.
3. Find someone you think your son will like.
No one knows your son better than you do. You will likely know from the therapist’s website or a short phone conversation if your son will like him. Trust your instinct on this one.
You may or may not have leverage to get your son into counseling, but if he really doesn’t like the therapist it definitely won’t work. Most teenage boys are irritated, angry or ashamed about the idea of going to see a therapist. If your son makes a connection with his therapist, that will make all the difference in the world.
Research has proven that the biggest predictor for success in therapy is the quality of the relationship with the therapist. This is why I work really hard to connect with my clients and make it easy for them to engage in and benefit from the process.
You don’t have to like your son’s therapist, but your son should. Pay close attention to what he says and his opinion of the therapist you choose.
4. Find someone who will work collaboratively with you.
This is an important consideration. It still surprises me at times, but I hear about therapists who work with teenagers and then refuse to have any dialogue with the parents or include them in the process. I understand respecting the teen’s confidentiality, but how can therapy be successful if there is no communication or collaboration?
At the very least, you want to, and are permitted to, know the following:
Is your son making progress?
What issues is he working on?
What are the goals for the therapy?
You may also need a therapist who will be willing to do certain things, such as attend an educational planning meeting, write a letter to his school or probation officer, or consult with his primary care doctor or psychiatrist. This can be a very important part of the process.
In addition to this you should have an idea about whether or not the therapist will be willing to do family therapy if that is needed. I often find that I can help a family make the most progress with a combination of individual and family sessions.
Finding a collaborative therapist who will work closely with you while maintaining your son’s trust is invaluable.
Fern Weis is a parent coach, specializing in supporting parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations (including underachieving, disrespectful behavior, addiction recovery and more). With parent-c