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Therapy for Teens: What to Expect

Mar 28, 2024 | Teen Therapy, Therapy Expectations

If you’re a teen about to enter therapy, the reason you arrived may be under very different circumstances. Your parents may be bringing you in for something they are concerned about that you have very different thoughts or feelings about or may not even believe is a problem.

Under these circumstances, you may feel deeply opposed or hesitant about talking to a therapist. Alternatively, you may be coming because you believe talking to someone could be helpful for several reasons.

You may be feeling sad or anxious, wondering how to relate to your peers at school or to your family, or want help dealing with feelings and desires that seem largely new and surprisingly intense.

What is Teen Therapy and How Does it Work?

Whether you fit one of these descriptions or if you’re just curious about the idea of seeing a therapist, you’re probably wondering on some level how therapy for teenagers works.

Teen therapy is a specialized form of counseling aimed at addressing the emotional, psychological, and social challenges that you may commonly face. It works by providing a safe and confidential environment where you can:

  • Express your thoughts and feelings without judgment.
  • Explore your identity.
  • Develop strategies to deal with stress or other mental health issues.

Through various therapeutic approaches, teen therapy can help you navigate the complexities of development while fostering growth and resilience.

The Role of Parent Involvement

Assuming you’re under the age of 18, your parents or guardians will have to request services and provide consent for the treatment. If you’re under 18, your therapist will always want to involve your parents in the treatment to some degree, for one because we know the therapy is much more likely to be helpful for you if they are involved.

How much they will be involved will depend on the therapist, your age, your parents, and the unique nature of your therapy. If your parents are mainly driving the decision to seek therapy for you, your therapist will most likely want to start by getting a sense of why they’ve decided to seek therapy for you at this time and how they’re hoping a therapist could help both you and them as your parents.

Even if you’re the one who first raised the idea of coming to therapy, your therapist will still want your parents to be involved from the beginning to get their perspective on things and to get some social and developmental history for you. After all, your parents will remember things about your history and development that you may have little or no memory of.

Of course, your therapist will also want to get your perspective on these same issues. Your therapist may also work with your parents to help increase their knowledge regarding adolescent mental health and development and to help them become more effective in their parenting roles with you.

Confidentiality in Teen Therapy

In terms of your work with the therapist, the privacy is of the utmost importance. This privacy means that you will be able to speak freely to your therapist without having to worry that your therapist will then turn and repeat everything to your parents.

This practice is what we refer to as confidentiality in psychotherapy. If you were dreading coming to therapy, it’s possible that you may start to feel differently once you have the experience of talking to someone under these circumstances.

There are narrow limits to privacy in therapy, and they mainly concern scenarios in which your therapist has concerns about you or someone else’s immediate safety or the therapist believes you may be experiencing abuse or neglect at home.

Choosing the Right Therapist

Whatever your starting point, you’ll probably want some input into what type of therapist you see. What are some things to consider in choosing a therapist?

  • It may be that aspects of the therapist’s identity are important to you, such as gender, age, or ethnicity.
  • You may prefer to work with a therapist who is familiar with or specializes in LGTBQ+ issues.
  • You may have heard about different types of therapy or approaches to therapy from your friends, social media, or the internet.

In these cases, you may be interested in the therapist’s theoretical orientation and technical approach to the work. Therapists work within a wide range of approaches and backgrounds, offering both different methods of counseling and lived experiences that you may or may not relate to.

If you check out our Find a Therapist resource, you can see the specialties, patient population, issue-focus, and even accepted insurances of each therapist.

Expressive Therapy for Teens

When you’re with your therapist, your therapist may focus on listening to you to get a sense of your inner world and how you think about yourself, others, and the world at large. You may find your therapist provides you with the opportunity to talk about anything that you’d like or anything that comes to mind and will try to learn about you this way.

During a counseling session, a therapist:

  • May ask questions or make comments to try to deepen their understanding of your experience or to offer you new perspectives on yourself and your life.
  • May help you to get to know and understand yourself better, including parts of yourself you didn’t know much about or even weren’t aware of at all coming into therapy.
  • May help you with the process of putting your feelings and experiences into words, as we know this is generally beneficial for mental health.
  • May help you explore your relationships with your friends, significant others, parents, and other family members.
  • May not offer ready made solutions to the questions or dilemmas that you bring to them, but they can help with how you think about these issues and arrive at your own answers.

Broadly, we refer to these types of approaches to therapy as expressive therapies and they include approaches such as psychodynamic therapy and humanistic therapy.

Behavioral Therapy for Teens

Alternatively, the therapist may be focused on teaching you skills to help you manage intense emotions like sadness, anger, and jealousy or to recognize and change thoughts that are either unrealistic or not serving you well.

In this style, your therapist may also provide you with practical solutions to stop or at least better manage unwanted behaviors, such as self-harm or eating-disordered behavior.

These solutions can involve using exercises during your session and homework or practice assignments to be completed between sessions that you and your therapist come up with, the idea being that this will help you apply what you learn into your daily life. These styles of therapies include well known therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).

Of course, these styles of therapy aren’t mutually exclusive and it’s quite possible that your therapist will draw from elements of both approaches.

Getting the Most out of Therapy

Once you’re in therapy, how will you know if you’re getting good therapy? It isn’t always easy to tell, but there are some helpful things to pay attention to.

Here are good signs that you’re getting the most out of therapy:

  • If you can openly discuss your feelings about the therapy and the therapist themselves and the therapist remains curious and non-defensive.
  • If your therapist admits when they make mistakes and takes responsibility for those mistakes.
  • If your therapist can ask you challenging questions or help you think about yourself or your life differently and it feels relatively safe for you.

The therapist’s role sometimes involves challenging you to expand your awareness, and this will sometimes be uncomfortable, but it should feel like it is ultimately in the interest of your personal growth.

How Long Will Teen Therapy Take?

So, how long will the therapy take? Under the best circumstances, this will be a decision made jointly by you, your therapist, and your parents. Your therapy should include developing goals or at least some sort of shared understanding of its purpose.

Ideally, therapy will end when everyone involved feels that your goals have been achieved and that the time is right for you to stop. In the most general sense, expressive therapies, such as psychodynamic therapies, tend to be longer and more open-ended, while skills-focused therapies, such as CBT or DBT, tend to be shorter and more clearly defined. However, each therapy is different, and there’s no knowing for certain in advance.

Take the Next Step Towards Teen Therapy With Start My Wellness

Whether you’re a teen eager to begin therapy, or considering it at your parent’s behest, teen therapy offers a safe and confidential space to share your feelings, address your concerns, and explore your unique identity.

Are you ready to take the first step towards self-understanding and growth? Start My Wellness offers a wide range of therapists specializing in teen counseling. Begin your journey to a better self today by calling us at (248)-514-4955.


  1. Start My Wellness: Gen Z and Therapy
  2. Start My Wellness: Are My Parents Going to Know What I Talk About in Therapy?
  3. Start My Wellness: Find a Therapist
  4. Start My Wellness: Teenagers and Young Adults in Treatment
  5. WebMD: Expressive Therapy
  6. Start My Wellness: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Looking for a Therapist? Start My Wellness has highly experienced Licensed Therapists that are currently accepting new patients.


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Request an Appointment

To get started with Start My Wellness, request an appointment with the provided form or call 248-514-4955. During the scheduling process, we will ask questions to match you with the therapist who will best meet your needs including service type, emotional symptoms and availability.

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