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Teenagers and Therapy: How to Make it Work

Teenagers and Therapy: How to Make it Work

I recently have had an influx of adolescents in my office and I have learned some valuable lessons about how to approach them in the most effective ways. Teenagers have very distinct needs and do not really fit into either the almost-adult or still-a-child category. This can sometimes create difficulties when parents feel that therapy is necessary.

Many parents would like to see their adolescent children well-adjusted, happy, successful and social. That is a tall order for teens who are dealing with peer pressure, hormonal changes, academic expectations, parental ideals and their own self-discovery process, all simultaneously. When parents are interested in therapy for their teens to provide a neutral, objective party to help, it can be difficult to decide who can best deal with teen issues. Many children’s therapists will not treat adolescents (they are too old and unmoldable) and many adult therapists will not either (they are too young and volatile). What does that mean for a parent trying to find a good-fit therapist for their teenager?

I work with teenagers up to age 16 at my office and have noticed some interesting trends in their needs and wants. I have had to modify my treatment to best serve them, but with positive outcomes.

Teens want to talk about themselves. Human beings love to be the center of attention. If given the right environment and a trustworthy recipient, teens enjoy discussing their lives. As an addendum, teens like talking about what THEY like. Talking about their family arguments or school problems does not interest them. Their friends, their dreams and goals, their feelings, and their frustrations are the favorite topics for discussion.

Teens also like more structured activities. They do not feel comfortable with open-ended questions or nebulous hypotheticals (“What do you think about that”?) Teens do well with specific directives where they are able to complete a given task and then discuss it. I often use worksheets and creative projects to deal with emotions, family, friends and more.

children therapy play therapistTeens are very easily embarassed. Even more so that adults. They are at a sensitive age where their self-esteem and confidence is developing or sometimes non-existent. Any questions or activities that put them in a threatened position will yield defensive postures and difficult progress. They need to feel respected and valued for it to work.

The confidentiality of therapy is integral to success with teenagers. Many teens who have refused to continue therapy with other counselors felt that the therapist and parents were on a “team”, inevitably competing against them. Parents and counselors should NEVER discuss the teen in front of him or her, and it should be clear that the allegiance is between the teen and therapist, no where else.

There are many more issues when working with teenagers, but those are the most important ones through my experience. Generally, if the teen feels important and it is clear that the therapist does not have an ulterior motive for meeting with him or her (I am going to “fix” you), it will be helpful and well-received.

Remember, teens cannot be forced to get into a car and go to therapy. So, if they agree to go on the first visit, begrudgingly or not, consider it a success. If they go back again, it was widely successful. “This is a waste of time” or “I think this is stupid” is perfectly fine, as long as they continue to go. Adolescent rebellion and indifference is a part of life, but their actions will always speak louder than their words.

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  • Satara Carr

    Would you pleasw be kind enough to share with me the resources you mentioned in your article as I am a mental health therapist working newly with adolescents and I am looking for great resources as how I can better my work with these teenagers I have found that this article has been right on point with the hardships I have currently as I spoke up before I am new working with adolescents and they don’t quite work the same way as my um younger clients do would you please email me any advice or resource is that you could.

    • thekidcounselor

      Please check your email for my activities.

  • Sabrina Fair

    Excellent information!

  • Valencia Bratton

    New LPC here.. I need some ideas and interventions for the preteen and teenage age group. Please help!

  • Brittany Brumit

    I am also a new LPC and would love to be able to use some of the interventions and worksheets that you use for preteens and teenagers. Do you mind emailing these to me at

  • christina

    I would love to have some worksheets and resources to use with this population as I have found them to be the hardest to engage in tx.
    Thanks in advance!

  • Kerri Chard

    Hi Brenna, I have just come across your wonderful blog, I work with at risk teenagers and would love to see your resources, I am always on the lookout for new ways to engage my clients

  • Lori West

    Could you email me your worksheets and resources? Thank you so much!

  • callye

    I’m working with teens and would love those resources as well.

  • kellie turchetta

    I am also a LCSW , working in a new private practice. Most of my clients are teens and children. I would love your resources and worksheets. Thanks

  • Scrumptious

    I’ve just started an MFT internship at a high school, and I would love to take a look at your resources and worksheets. Thanks for a helpful article!

  • Autumn W

    Hi Brenna, I am an MFTI working with mandated youth in SF. I would also like the worksheets you use with your teens if you’re still sharing, thanks!

  • Tee

    Hi, if you’re still sending out your resources and worksheets, I would love to receive a copy. My email address is


  • Anna

    Hi Brenna! I am a graduate student working with at risk teens and I was hoping you could email me the worksheets you use! It seems like they would be very helpful. Thank you so much! – Anna

  • Alexa

    Hi Brenna! Great article and great tips! I am a provisional psychologist that is currently starting work with adolescents and would really appreciate any resources you may have available to share. Thanks a lot! Warmly, Alexa.

  • Andy

    Hi Brenna. I counsel young people and would love to see your worksheets and resources Many Thanks

  • Mariana

    Hi Brenna, I am working with young people in a boarding school and would really appreciate if you could share with me any resources you may have that could help me in dealing with teenagers. Thanks

  • Wendy

    Hi Brenna, I would love to see any resources and worksheets you have for counseling children and teens. Thanks

  • Orit K

    Could you please send it to me as well

    thanks (

  • Vanessa Vaziri

    Hello Brenna, I just started working with a teen in therapy and I’d love to get some of your resources that others on this page are asking for :-) My email address is

    Thanks so much!


    Hi Brenna,i m going to start working with girls in schools.if you could help with your worksheets and any resources that could help me in dealing with girls.

  • Randal McClintock

    I loved your article, I too work with teenagers and often find it difficult to find things that aren’t too grown up and that are also not boring and childish for them. Would you mind sending me worksheets and resources as well?


  • Donna Bates

    Your article was very interesting. Can you please send me worksheets and resource materials? My email address is

  • Brittany D

    Hi! I loved this article and find it so relevant to the work I do as I’m a school counselor! I would love to be able to look at your resources and worksheets. My email is
    Thank you so much!

  • Trisha

    I would also love a copy of the worksheets and activities. Please email me at

  • viviana

    Would love if you could send me your resources and activities doing my intership at a group home for teen girls. Thank you

  • Rebecca Chesney

    I am an LPC-Intern and work often with teens. Would you pleeeaaase send me a list of your favorite activities/worksheets/resources? I’d really appreciate it!!

  • Guest

    Hello, I am a substance abuse counselor and a Grad student in professional counseling. Could you send me some insightful activities and worksheets for teenagers? It would be greatly appreciated,

  • Kimberly Peck

    Hello! I work with teens who are adopted and often the underlying issues are grief and loss. I would love some of your activities and worksheets to use with teens. Thank you for your work! My email is

  • rcatbarr

    If you are still sharing activities and worksheets, I’d love to take advantage of your wonderful experience in my work with teens. thank you! i’m

  • kristin

    Hi Brenna, Thank you for the great article. If possible, please send me any resources/worksheets you are willing to share. I am currently an LPC-Intern working with teens at a non-profit organization. Thanks so much!

  • Trisha Evans Ryder

    Ditto to what everyone else stated. Anything you are willing to share is very much appreciated. My email address is

  • Jelysa

    Hello! I hope I am not too late in my reply, but I am an MSW intern and would absolutely appreciate resources as well! I am interning at a high school substance abuse prevention program affiliated with NCADD. My email is I hope you are still able to share this information with me. Thank you in advanced!

  • Rebecca Lynn

    I am a school counselor and also LPC. I enjoyed your article and agree that teens can be challenging. I would love to see some of your worksheets or resources. Thanks.
    Rebecca Lohr LPC

  • Eddie Gibbons

    I am an MSW working with some teens and would appreciate any resources you can share that I could review and maybe use, Thanks

  • Kendra

    Hi, I am a LPC- Intern and have recently started working with the teen population. So far I’ve been doing most of which you have mentioned in your article….allowing them to focus on themselves and topics of their interest. I would just like some more ideas of structured activities. If you are open to sharing any helpful resources or worksheets it would be greatly appreciated!!!!! All credit to you! Thanks!
    If so, my email is

  • goodpoints

    HI Brenna- Really enjoyed the article. I am working in England with troubled youth. Any resources you have to share would be such a help. Wishing you much success in your practice as well as your own family!-

  • Tanya Wade

    Hi Brenna. Came across this article. I am a LCSW and wondered if you could send me the resources and worksheets mentioned. Thanks in advance,

  • Anne

    Hi Brenna! Your article was super helpful as I have just starting seeing more adolescents in my practice. I am an LPC and would love any resources including structured exercises/worksheets you would
    be willing to share. My e-mail is Thanks!

  • Raheel

    Hi Brenna. Can you please send me some resources. My email is Thanks!

  • Cori Callahan

    Hi Brenna. I am a LPC-Intern and really found your article both interesting and useful. Can you please send me some resources as well? Thanks so much! My email is