It can feel intimidating to send your teen to therapy, but it can make all the difference. A teen and an adolescent health expert share the value in mental health care at this vulnerable age.

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An image of a teenager sitting down with a therapist.
Credit: Priscilla Du Preez from Unsplash.

It can be difficult to understand what a teen is going through inside their own head. This is especially true if they are struggling with their mental health. Therapy is an important outlet for teenagers to uncover who they truly are and to better understand all of the thoughts swirling through their mind.

Most teens don't know where to start when it comes to finding a therapist and turn to their parents for help. The idea of sending your child to a therapist may seem scary, but it is vital to understand why therapy is an irreplaceable experience that may change the course of your child's teenage years. As a teenager who has benefited from therapy, here is what I want parents to know. If your teen shows signs of mental distress or asks to see a therapist, there is only one thing to do: help.

Therapy is for Everyone

One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding therapy is that all people who go to therapy have some sort of mental illness. I have been dismissed for bringing up seeing a therapist because I wasn't deemed 'mentally ill enough'. The reality is that mental health is a spectrum, and just because there's no diagnosable illness doesn't mean there isn't an internal struggle. And we're not too young to feel stress or depressed. Being a teenager comes with a lot of new experiences that can be overwhelming: learning to navigate relationships, balancing academics with extra curriculars, getting jobs for the first time, all of these things can add a lot of stress. Therapy isn't just a place that people go to get prescriptions or unpack years of baggage, it can simply be a tool to help handle life or act like an extra friend to vent to. It's a place where we can unload all of our thoughts and problems without fear of being judged or interrupted. Teens may even learn things that will help them to grow into a well rounded and healthy adult.

It's Not About You

Something that a lot of parents seem to worry about when sending their child to therapy is that it will result in their child figuring something out that will turn them against their family or make them resent their upbringing. I understand that it can be worrisome not knowing what your child is going through, but therapy may be what they need to open up. Therapy is not a trauma dump in the way many think it is. Your teen is not going to just unload all of the family secrets to their therapist on the first day, most therapists follow a sort of format and its geared to have your teen talk about what they feel is important. A therapist also isn't going to advise their patient on how to feel or react to something, rather, they will ask them how they feel and help them work on those emotions.

I personally have many friends who attend therapy and the most common reason among many is that they want a healthier relationship with their families as well as themselves. It's hard to get there without being able to understand the feelings behind the relationships. While it's easy to assume your teen spends their therapy sessions ranting about you and all the things they think you do wrong, I promise that the goal of therapy is to better oneself. Teens have a lot more of that to focus on than you think.

It's Not Just for Attention

I've heard therapy viewed as a cry for attention, but this is far from the reason most teens seek out mental health care. While attention from a therapist goes without saying, as you are paying them for their time, it is very rarely, if ever, your child's main goal. Therapy is a place for your child to learn how to process their emotions. I often talk to my friends about how I am feeling, but therapy gives me an outlet where I have full privacy and can get professional advice. I've learned things in therapy I didn't know I needed to learn, such as how to better navigate conversations when I'm anxious, how to deal with stress, and how to live a healthier life without developing bad habits. These tools that therapists provide will not only make your teen's life easier, but yours as well.

Breaking the Stigma

Therapy may be a new concept for you, and that's okay. New things can be scary even for adults, and so can change. Therapy certainly brings on a lot of changes, but as long as you want and accept them, they can be positive ones. From my peer's perspective, the thing most teens wish their parents would do to understand therapy is to go to therapy themselves. You may be thinking 'well I don't need therapy,' but that in itself is the problem.

Therapy doesn't have to be a necessity. It's not about being a certain level of mentally ill. It can just be a way to better understand yourself and how to navigate life. We could all use a little help once and a while, so don't let old societal standards keep you or your child from exploring their emotions. Everybody deserves to have their thoughts heard and validated.

An Expert Weighs In

"There is no better time to experience therapy than during adolescence, when teen's bodies are growing as rapidly as their minds are remodeling," says Hina Talib, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine specialist at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York. "Just like bodies need check-ups, our brains do too."

Dr. Talib adds that parents should explain to teens how common mental health challenges are and encourage them to ask for help when they need it. "Therapy helps keep teens safe and gain control of their mental health with hope (and often homework too). These lessons can truly last a lifetime.

"Once the idea of therapy crosses your or your teen's minds, it might be a sign that it is worth looking into," says Dr. Talib. "But, it can feel daunting to find a therapist. Involve your teen in the process from the start to foster agency and choice. Let them help to select a provider, a time during the week, and whether their session is remote or in-person. To get started, you can make an appointment with your teen's pediatrician or you can connect directly with a mental health specialist like a psychologist, social worker, or school counselor."

Angela Castronova is a 21-year-old student from Queens, New York. She is a senior at Binghamton University majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. She is interested in different areas of the writing field such as poetry, journalism, and song writing.