No one wants to believe that their son or daughter might need teen counseling. Troubled teens often have difficulty asking for help. Unfortunately, some mental health conditions do not become prominent until the teenage years and early adulthood. But how can you distinguish between common teen angst and a possible mental health disorder, like depression?
Believe it or not, it is not your imagination if it seems your teenager behaves differently than you. Biologically speaking, a teenager’s brain is developing and maturing for years into adulthood. The region of the brain, known as the amygdala, controls fear and aggressive behaviors. The amygdala develops early in a child.
However, the region of the brain that controls reasoning and logic (the frontal cortex) forms at a slower pace with maturation not reached until the young adult years. With the amygdala controlling a teenager’s impulsivity and rash behavior, and without the mature reasoning that comes from the frontal cortex, they become hyper-aware of their emotions.
This is why at times it seems that your teen isn’t thinking about the repercussions of their actions, especially long-term consequences. Your teen’s brain structure and function can also be delayed or hindered due to substance abuse.
Although your teen knows right from wrong, some emotions are too overwhelming for them to handle on their own. Studies also show that certain mental health conditions become noticeable during the teenage and early adult years.
Teenage Problems that May Require Therapy
A small lie, cheating on a test, or a fight with a friend may not be cause for alarm when it comes to your teenager. Especially if you discipline and help them correct their behavior. However, some teenagers begin to exhibit underlying issues.
A teenager feels their emotions at a higher level than adults depending on their developmental stage. When upset, they may demonstrate several emotions at once including sadness and anger. However, if your child is alternating between periods of extreme sadness and lethargy to explosive or violent outbursts, there may be an underlying issue.
Teenagers are under a great deal of stress from both their peers and the media to look a certain way. Many children throughout history have been bullied due to their weight, whether too thin or too heavy. To gain approval, a teen may develop an eating disorder to control the only thing they can in this instance – their weight.
Between responsibilities at home and school, as well as extracurricular activities, teens can feel the effects of stress. However, they may not understand the signs of stress, which can include lack of focus, headaches, muscle aches, illness, and sleep problems, all of which can affect their behavior.
Anxiety encompasses more than simply worrying; the emotion can course through the body like an undercurrent while your teen is unaware. Anxiety goes beyond stress. It can cause psychological, physical, and relationship problems. Severe anxiety and panic attacks are debilitating.
Although it is normal for a child to experience teenage problems and get into trouble from time to time, troubled teens with behavioral problems may need adult guidance and therapy to root out the origin of their behavior. Extreme behavioral problems include habitual lying, stealing, criminal acts, and hurting others.
Sometimes teenagers will use numbing agents to cope with hormonal and emotional issues. These agents can include substances like alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription drugs. Drugs and alcohol can manipulate the neuron pathways in the brain causing irreparable damage or delay.
Bullying has always been an issue for children and teens, but in our day, cyber-bullying and social media make it even more insidious. Other issues teens face include school-related problems, such as arguments with a teacher, trouble with certain subjects, failing grades, and cliques.
Signs of depression in teens include a lack of motivation, withdrawal from activities they used to enjoy, noticeable behavioral changes, weight gain or loss, sleep changes, loss of friends, and a lack of focus. Depression can also bring about suicidal thoughts.
Everyone handles grief differently and teenagers are no exception. Your teen may be unable to cope in a healthy manner after the death of a close loved one, such as a parent, grandparent, sibling, or friend. They may go from one extreme to the next, lashing out at others or withdrawing from everyone.
Also a sign of teen depression, low self-esteem can make them unable to stand up for themselves. During this time when children are “finding” themselves, teens with low self-esteem issues may develop social phobias or other disorders, like body dysmorphic disorder, as they compare themselves to their peers.
Whether emotional, physical, or sexual, trauma deals an unhealthy blow to developing teens. They may be unable to process the trauma and the events surrounding it, which can lead to added stress, anxiety, and depression.
These issues may require therapy. Left untreated, the conditions can cause deeper problems and more severe mental health disorders.
How Do Adult and Teen Counseling Differ?
If you feel your child needs therapy, speak to either a school counselor or your primary physician (or pediatrician) about a referral for teen help. Adolescent therapy is different than adult therapy and you will want what is best for your child.
Adult therapy typically consists of mostly talk sessions or family counseling. Although family sessions may be called on, teen counseling will probably include identifying and accepting their inner emotions and learning new coping mechanisms. They will learn how to take responsibility for their own actions.
One beneficial therapy that is useful in both adult and teen psychotherapy is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT will help your teen understand the correlation between their thoughts and mood, and how this affects their behavior.
By implementing CBT techniques, your child will be able to shift their thinking from negative thoughts to positive ones. Studies have proven that CBT helps people with anxiety and depression as well as other conditions.
What to Expect During Teen Counseling
Therapy is a safe and confidential place where your teen can explain the types of thoughts and emotions they are experiencing without judgment. Your teen may have one-on-one sessions with a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, depending on the type of treatment facility you choose.
Since a teen’s world is limited and based on their family and close connections, a mental health care professional may suggest family and/or group counseling to help everyone learn the best way to handle the situation.
A therapist will listen and then suggest techniques for your child to work on between sessions. This “homework” is critical for teaching your child how to think differently, and thus, change their behavior. In the first session, the therapist will listen and help formulate a goal and a plan to reach these goals with your child. Subsequent sessions will be based on analyzing what worked and what didn’t.
For example, the therapist may ask your withdrawn teen to reconnect with a friend one day this week. In the next session, they will discuss how that reconnection went and if it helped your teenager. If it did, then the therapist might suggest that your teen concentrates on joining their friend for lunch or going to see a movie with them one day next week.
How to Find Teen Counseling
Your pediatrician or primary physician can recommend a mode of treatment to help your teen overcome their struggles. Many mental health professionals are available in private practice, but you can also find teen counseling in an outpatient facility, or for extreme cases, a residential facility. Teenagers suffering from suicidal or harmful thoughts may require hospitalization.
A faith-based counselor not only helps troubled teens but can reaffirm their faith in God. They can teach your teen that relying on God’s strength while implementing the therapy techniques introduced may give them an advantage.
Learning to call on the Lord and to ask for His help can give your child time to reassess their own thoughts and emotions before partaking in risky behavior, and will help them become the strong person God made to be
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