Working with teens in a therapeutic environment may seem like a daunting task. Parents often have to force their adolescents to attend, let alone act as unwilling participants. However, the success of therapy is often dependent on the willingness of the participant to actively seek help. Which may beg the question, how can a therapist help turn things around to develop a meaningful therapeutic relationship with an angsty teen?
At BE Psychology we have plenty of experience working with teens and would love to share five of our favorite tips for creating a positive therapeutic experience for them.
Therapy works better when teens want to participate
Teens who are willing participants in their therapeutic care experience more positive outcomes. When a teen develops an active relationship with their therapist, they function as teammates working toward the same goal. Ultimately, this allows them to achieve more together. When a treatment plan is co-created with insight from the teen, they will feel more in control of their future and will be more likely to stay active in therapy.
5 Tips for Teenage Therapeutic Engagement
Reframe the Narrative
Teens are often reluctant to attend therapy as they are unsure of what therapy is like. It can seem embarrassing, scary, or forced and is often unchartered territory for most. One of the most important things to do when meeting with a teenager for the first time is to be clear about what therapy is.
Therapy doesn’t have to be boring and antiquated, it can be fun, fulfilling, and more like a coach and student relationship. By reframing the narrative and expressing how therapeutic care will be provided, teens are more likely to participate and understand that their therapist is there to help and work alongside them, instead of “telling them” what to do.
Create a Welcoming Space
Always create a safe, secure, welcoming non-judgemental environment for your clients. Offer plenty of options to adjust the space as needed during their session. A fun and cozy space may include the likes of comfy bean bag chairs, dim lighting, fidget toys, soothing art, soothing sounds, and other soothing activities. Your goal is to make their experience as comfortable and productive as possible.
Match them with the right therapist
Matching a teenager to a therapist that they feel comfortable with is one of the most important things both providers and parents can do. Upon intake, providers should gain knowledge of the client’s personal preferences. Do they prefer a male or female therapist? Are they looking to work alongside someone who specializes in a particular therapy? Figure out how to make things flow more seamlessly for the teen, allowing them to feel welcomed, comfortable, and safe to talk. Therapy can work very well when the therapist and teen can develop a strong therapeutic relationship, and this won’t happen if you pair someone with a therapist outside of their comfort zone.
Set an Agenda
Setting an agenda will provide teens with a better understanding of what their session will look like. For example, explain that the first few sessions are typically used to complete a biopsychosocial assessment in order to see the bigger picture of all things regarding their biology, psychology, and social environments. Explain how this tool will be used and what the following sessions may look like.
During these first sessions, they will also talk about their family history, why they are in therapy, and their goals for therapy. Together, with help from the teen, moving through sessions can flow efficiently and effectively depending on their willingness to participate. It’s also important to make sure your clients understand therapy doesn’t have to be an endless, ongoing thing. It can be for as long or as short as they need.
Think outside of the box
As most therapists already know, thinking outside of the box is key when working with any population, but this is especially true for teens. As a therapist, being a different age than a client can be tricky, so being up to date with pop culture, current trends, and social media is a must. By being in the know with all of those, a good therapist can equip themselves with some understanding of the social and environmental challenges that teens face. Additionally, understanding the teens’ unique likes and dislikes can help therapists get creative with their therapeutic approach.
At BE Psychology, our team of therapists and psychologists are trained to help treat both children and adults with any mental health concerns. We also specialize in working with teens facing crisis. If you or a loved one are in need of testing, assessments, or psychotherapy, we can help.
Contact a member of our team to schedule your appointment today.