When your teen starts going to therapy, it can feel like a delicate, overwhelming dance between you, your teen, and their therapist. Supporting your teen after therapy can increase their likelihood of reaping its benefits. It’s important to find the right amount of involvement while allowing your teen ample space to process their thoughts and feelings so that they can prosper.
What Can Teen Counseling Help With?
Teen counseling allows teens to process a variety of problems that arise during adolescence. It can help bridge the gap from childhood to adulthood in a way that eases anxiety, boosts self-esteem and confidence, and helps keep them rooted in reality-based thinking. Teen counseling can help them prepare for the transition from high school and deciding what the next steps look like for the future, whether it is college, trade school, the workforce, or something else
Teen counseling can also provide a safe space to explore sexuality, gender identity, body image, healthy interactions with peers, concerns about fitting in, and boundary setting. There are a lot of changes, pressures, and expectations that your teen may have never experienced before. Therapy can be a great way to learn how to manage these new, overwhelming experiences and emotions.
Giving Your Teen Ownership of the Therapy Process
Your teen will value the benefits of therapy and respect you even more if you allow them to have agency and autonomy throughout the therapeutic process. You can do this by empowering them to choose their therapist, how often they go to therapy, and the types of therapeutic approaches they think would be helpful for them. While availability, insurance, or costs may not necessarily be in your control, there are many factors that your teen can have agency over.
Some things you can do to give your teen ownership of therapy process include:
- Involve them in the process of finding and selecting a therapist; this can include asking them if they feel comfortable asking people they know for recommendations or if they would rather utilize an online directory
- Find a therapist your child can connect with; for example, if they’re dealing with gender and sexuality, an LGBTQ+ therapist might help the most
- Learn together about the different types of therapeutic approaches, such as CBT, DBT, EMDR, etc.
- Be open to what your child wants to try (i.e., if they think art therapy would be the best option, stay open to that possibility)
- Make sure you are both on the same page about your involvement in the process; while it may be normal for you to be initially involved as the therapist gathers information about the family history, your child may want you to step back
- Set clear expectations about confidentiality with your teen
As a parent, it may be challenging to allow your teen ownership and agency throughout the therapeutic process, including what they choose to focus on. Remember, while you may have an idea on the things that need to be changed or a source of conflict, your teen and their therapist may feel otherwise after seeing the larger picture. It is important that you continue providing your teen agency by checking in with them about whether they feel therapy is helping them.
10 Questions to Ask Your Teen After a Therapy Session
Don’t be surprised if your teen still does not want to open up to you, especially immediately after therapy sessions, as they may still be reflecting on their experience. You can try asking one or two questions, but do your best to adjust your expectations and give them space when they need it.
Here are 10 potential questions to ask your teen after their therapy session:
1. If I Did ___ to Help, Would That Be Good or Not?
This question can help in two ways: it offers a specific, potentially helpful suggestion they may not have thought about on their own, and it allows your teen to provide you feedback on the suggestion. This can be a good starting point in a conversation for your teen to elaborate more on what does and does not help.
2. What Times of Day Are the Hardest for You?
Asking this question can help you understand when they may be in most need of support. Follow-up questions might include: why do you think this is the hardest for you? Do you think ____ would help?
3. What’s the Most Frustrating Part of ___?
You want to avoid assuming how your teen is feeling as much as possible. If you know that your teen is feeling triggered, frustrated, or stressed by a particular situation, this question allows your teen to tell you how they perceive the situation.
4. What Do You Think People Don’t Understand About ___?
Again, if you think that your teen is feeling misunderstood or out of place for a particular reason, this question can be helpful for them to put into words what they perceive others are thinking about them. Remember that you may also be included in the list of people who don’t understand, so try to stay open and avoid feeling defensive.
5. Is There Anything You’re Afraid of Sharing With Me?
Be prepared for the answer to this question to be a short “yes” without much elaboration. While this can be indicative of how they perceive your relationship, it can also speak to how they feel about the topic. Feelings of inner guilt and shame may be contributing to your teen’s fear of sharing about the corresponding situation. You may want to follow up with something like: would you want to have a session together with your therapist to talk about it?
6. What is Coming Up in Your Week That Will Be Hard?
Asking your teen to reflect on upcoming stressors helps your teen identify issues that may arise throughout the week. This allows for both of you to loosely plan together ways in which you can support them. However, if it causes them significant stress and anxiety, remember that your teen may also want to avoid the subject altogether.
7. What Things Are Triggering for You?
After some time in therapy, your teen may have an easier time articulating their triggers. Have patience with your teen if they still respond with “I don’t know” or keep it short, as this may be a sign that they may not fully know or feel comfortable sharing their triggers. Instead, try to pay attention to your teen’s response to different situations, as that may show you some of their triggers.
8. What Helps You Cope?
As they identify their triggers in therapy, your teen may also be working with their therapist to identify what helps them cope. You may be surprised by their response, but remember, it is what helps them feel better… not what you think may be helpful. Therapy can help your teen develop healthy coping mechanisms, but it may take some time.
9. If You Could Change Anything About ___, What Would You Change?
Asking your teen to identify specific changes they feel are necessary within particular situations opens the door for nonjudgmental honesty and perhaps brainstorming for solutions.
10. What Would You Consider a Step Forward Here?
Having a question like this helps your teen break down their bigger goals into tiny, digestible steps. This encourages them to continue making progress towards their goals while reducing the overwhelm and pressure.
What to Ask Your Child’s Therapist
You can work with your teen and your teen’s therapist to determine how often you should be checking in with them about your teen’s progress. The therapist may have a preference on how they would like to handle any concerns you may have so as not to hinder any trust and rapport they’ve established. It is best to keep questions rather broad when talking to your child’s therapist to maintain your teen’s privacy and confidentiality. The more targeted and specific your questions become, the less information your teen’s therapist will be able to disclose while maintaining trust and confidentiality with your teen.
Some potential questions to ask your child’s therapist to ensure you’re on the same page include:
- How would you say they are doing in therapy?
- Do you feel that they are engaging throughout the session?
- I noticed ____. Have they processed this with you?
- I’m concerned about ____. Is this something you can help support?
- I’m hoping my teen will ____. If you feel it would be worthwhile to discuss this in therapy, I think it could be beneficial.
What Will Progress Look Like?
Progress can look vastly different from person to person and the nature of the concerns that led them to seek therapy. Unlike more tangible progress, such as weight loss or grades, it may not feel as obvious to notice whether your teen is progressing or not. A good rule of thumb to determine if your teen is benefiting from therapy would involve recalling and recognizing where they were prior to starting therapy.
Most parents make the mistake in assuming that grades are the only reliable indicator and reflection of a teen’s progress, success, and self-confidence. Unfortunately, many teens have great grades but suffer from chronic anxiety and depression. The most important thing to keep in mind is that progress is never linear, and there will certainly be days that are better than others.
Signs your teen is making positive progress in therapy may include:
- Increased interest in their hobbies, such as painting, playing an instrument, knitting, etc.
- They manage their emotions better
- They problem solve more effectively
- They consider other perspectives more easily
- Their mood or behavior seems better than it did prior to therapy
What to Do If Your Teen Doesn’t Like Their Therapist
If your teen constantly feels like they have to leave out important details of their experience for fear of judgment, gets anxious or worried about sessions, or doesn’t feel validated by their therapist, it may be time to find a new therapist. It can be normal to feel this way initially, but if your teen becomes persistently overwhelmed by therapy, try to talk to them about how to bring up these concerns to their therapist.
The easiest way to “break up” with a therapist or terminate the therapeutic relationship is for you or your teen to inform the therapist that they are not the best fit and you wish to cancel all future sessions. The therapist may want to schedule one last session out of formality and as part of their termination policy. However, the last thing you want to do is “ghost” your teen’s therapist, as it is healthy to experience ending a relationship in a way that still feels safe and cordial.
Consider Therapy for Yourself
As a parent supporting a teen through therapy, it is a good idea for you to find your own therapist to help you navigate the process. Having your own therapist can be a great way for you to explore questions that may be triggering, insulting, or harmful for your teen. Additionally, it can provide you the opportunity to explore your own personal biases, patterns of thinking, and process any thoughts and feelings that arise.
You may notice your ability to manage stress, anger, and frustration improves when you go to therapy, which can help your relationship with your teen. This provides them reassurance that you are also putting in the effort to make positive changes. You can find a therapist using an online therapist directory as well.
The support you provide your teen after therapy will ultimately depend on their individual preferences and the circumstances behind their need for therapy. It is important that you respect their boundaries; if your teen prefers to keep to themselves, it may be best to give them the space that they need and make it clear that you are open to listening to them if and when they are ready to do so. Keep being supportive and consider going to therapy for your own wellbeing. Parenting is hard in general, and parenting teens can be most challenging, but therapy can make a big difference for everyone.
For Further Reading
- Mental Health America
- National Alliance on Mental Health
- Manatee | Digital Mental Health Therapy for Kids and Families
- ParenTeen Connect
- Teen Esteem