The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has reported that nearly 1 in 3 of all adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder.1 But not all of them will get help. According to the CDC, around 13.6 percent of children aged 5-17 years received any mental health treatment in the past 12 months and only 10 percent received counseling or therapy from a mental health professional.2 Even more, with the advent of telehealth websites, some teens are getting a quick diagnosis and access to prescription medications without considering other therapeutic alternatives first. Most of these websites should require parental consent, but there have been instances where teens have received medication without their parents’ knowledge, leading to self-harm due to side effects.3
But how do you know when teenage therapy is an option? If left untreated, will anxiety eventually dissipate on its own? Read on to find out how to pinpoint anxiety in your teen, how therapy can help from a young age, and how to find the right therapist for your teen.
Pinpointing Anxiety in Your Teen
Anxiety in teens tends to differ from anxiety in children. Where a young child might be anxious about something happening to their parents or monsters hiding under the bed, a teen may be more concerned with how they look or whether or not they fit in.
Signs of teenage anxiety include:
- Low self-esteem
- Extreme self-consciousness
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Poor academic performance
- Social withdrawal
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sudden weight gain or weight loss
- Panic attacks
- Substance use
How Therapy Can Help Starting from a Young Age
While it’s normal for teens to feel anxious from time to time, when it starts to interfere with their daily life and cause distress for the family, it may be time to seek outside help. After all, research suggests anxiety left untreated worsens over time, potentially leading to disability, reduced ability to work leading to loss of productivity, and a high risk of self-harm.4
When started at a young age, therapy can help children develop healthy thinking patterns and constructive habits to deal with their stressors. They learn early that talking is a healthy way to express their feelings and over time, the more they practice new coping skills learned in therapy, these skills will become second nature. Not only does therapy help reduce anxiety and depression, but it also increases self-esteem, social skills, and a strong sense of self.
Considering the Different Types of Therapists
When it comes to choosing the right mental health professional for your teen, you’re likely to come across the following options. Explore each one to see how they can help.
Counselors are mental health professionals that typically offer short-term care, as opposed to psychologists and therapists who tend to offer long-term care. While a therapist might dig into the past to understand your present, a counselor may be more likely to focus on the future while zeroing in on specific goals. They are especially helpful regarding anxiety around a recent change, such as a school issue or move to another city.
Clinical Social Workers
Like a counselor, a social worker can help your teen navigate recent changes and challenges, but they are not as likely to deal with mental health disorders like a psychologist or psychiatrist. A social worker may also direct your teen and/or your family to other helpful resources and programs rather than treat them directly.
Clinical psychologists are doctors who have training and expertise providing psychotherapy, screening for disorders, and diagnosing your teen if necessary. They do not prescribe medication, but often have specialized training in assessment and behavioral treatment for teens and families.
Psychiatrists & Psychopharmacologists
Psychiatrists and psychopharmacologists work with patients to treat mental health and behavioral disorders. While both types of specialists can prescribe medication, a psychiatrist may explore other avenues in treating your teen based on their medical history and unique needs. They may also work collaboratively with other medical professionals to create a specialized plan of treatment that does not always include medication. Psychopharmacologists, on the other hand, are psychiatrists that focus on how medication can help eliminate or greatly reduce psychological, neurological, and behavioral problems.
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Types of Therapy
Just like the variety of mental health professionals we listed above, there are numerous forms of therapeutic approaches that can help your teen in different ways. Explore these options below to decide which option is right for your family.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of therapy that helps to improve your teen’s moods and behavior by examining distorted patterns of thinking. CBT therapists help your teen understand the connection between their thoughts and feelings and how they can influence their behavior. They then work together to replace negative thinking and face anxiety-producing experiences with a different frame of mind.
Just like it sounds, talk therapy helps your teen articulate their thoughts and feelings around various issues, such as family problems, school difficulties, peer troubles, health conditions, and more. The therapist can also help them learn coping skills to deal with anxiety and/or stress more productively or refer them to other professionals for specialized support. If your teen has difficulty opening up to you, the idea of talk therapy can be daunting at the beginning, especially when talking about difficult topics. Explain to them that therapy can also teach them new skills they may have heard about but never tried, such as mindfulness techniques, and build new inner strengths.
In group therapy, a mental health professional leads multiple patients in one session. By listening to and interacting with peers in a supportive setting, your teen will feel less isolated in their problems while improving their social skills. This can be especially helpful if you’ve noticed your teen having trouble connecting with others or engaging in avoidance tactics.
Family therapy targets the entire family unit, not just your teen. Sessions may include parents, siblings, and maybe even grandparents. Together, the family learns how to function more constructively by exploring patterns of communication and providing education and support.
How to Find a Therapist for Your Kid
Most health insurance plans cover mental health, so calling up your provider is one of the first steps you might take in locating a therapist for your teen. You can also browse online directories for local therapists to read up on their specialities and training and find the right fit for your needs.
Keep in mind that when you mention therapy to your teen, there’s a chance they may react negatively. This is the perfect opportunity to explain to them that your family prioritizes mental health just as much as physical health and a therapist is simply a doctor just like your usual GP.
It’s also worth mentioning that therapy is not a quick fix, but there is no such thing. Dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues takes work, but the payoff is well worth it. That’s why Brillia has developed a holistic strategy to address issues like anxiety, stress, irritability, and restlessness. We know there is no one solution to anxiety, and our strategy combines medication with numerous healthy habits to enact change. This includes following a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, controlling screen time, and practicing mindfulness, which all take work and practice, but have clinically-proven results in reducing anxiety.
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