A roadmap for your teens’s counseling journey
Thank you for choosing Angelus for your teen’s counseling journey. We are looking forward to meeting you and your teen. As you prepare your teenager(s) for their first appointment, we have assembled some information for the typical counseling process and some suggestions on how to get the most out of therapy at Angelus. Please feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns you may have.
*Please keep in mind if you teen is ever saying that they want to harm themselves or someone else and has a plan or means, call Crisis or go to the hospital FIRST. When it comes to life and safety overreacting is always better then underreacting.
WHAT DOES THE COUNSELING PROCESS LOOK LIKE AND HOW DO YOU PREPARE YOUR TEEN FOR THEIR FIRST APPOINTMENT?
Teenagers are in a constant stage of change and discovery. They are caught between having intense physical and emotional experiences and having limited life experiences to help guide them on how to handle these. Add it that the chaos and disruption of the increasingly virtual world and ever-present pressures of social media and they can become easily overwhelmed and lost. While, unfortunately, still holding onto the mindset that they are smarter than all of the adults in their life.
Counseling is meant to help your teenager gain control over their thoughts, bodies, and emotions. it is meant to help them explore what is and isn’t working for them and help them find new ways in which to interact with the world. It can be helpful to let them know that it is someone who is there to listen to and help them and is not there to take sides or judge/criticize them.
Please Please Please, let your teen know that going to counseling is NOT a punishment, it’s an opportunity for growth and improvement and that this person is going to work to make therapy supportive and meaningful.
Whether your teen has asked to go to therapy, or they were recommended to go, it takes time to see change. No teenager is alike, so the process will look different for everyone. Counseling is meant to help gain control over thoughts and emotions. Together your teen and their therapist will work to address emotions, physical sensations, and thoughts that are causing disruption in their everyday life. They will start meeting with their therapist on a weekly basis, anywhere between 30 to 55 minutes at their comfort level. After they have reached a strong foundation in treatment, the therapist can start decreasing sessions on a bi-weekly basis until all goals are met.
In the initial treatment process, we encourage them to talk about what successful completion would look like. We would also like to take into consideration what you, as the parent(s), would like to see change? Keep in mind the parent(s) and the teenager(s) may see the change differently, but the therapist will hear both sides and help navigate towards some shared goals. Some teenagers would like assistance in regulating emotions or learning age-appropriate coping and social skills. These are often important elements to include in their treatment plan. The therapist will review this treatment plan every three-four months to monitor positive therapeutic progress.
Preparing yourself as the parent/ guardian for your Teenager’s counseling:
One of the things that is most important during this process is developing your own realistic expectations of what change, and progress may look like. Although teens are undoubtedly very smart and resourceful, they are still growing and learning. With this developmental stage being one of the toughest, it’s important to be patient with the process. We understand as parent(s) it can be difficult to raise a teenager but it’s important to begin teaching independence and developing these skills whenever possible.
With that being said in the state of PA, any minor who is fourteen years of age or older may consent on his or her own behalf to mental health treatment, and the minor’s parent(s) or legal guardian(s) consent is not necessary. Which means legally therapists are unable to talk about what happens in session without the teens’ consent. However, most therapists will help the teen tell their parents how they are feeling so that it is coming from them and not the therapist as this can damage the therapeutic alliance. Teens are complicated when it comes to trust and opening up. If they know that they can have privacy in the counseling process it makes them much more likely to really address things below the surface. We can discuss general components with you; such as if they are struggling or doing well or if there are any issues to safety but we can’t tell you what they say or how they feel without their ok. We know that this can be difficult to understand, but it is also in place to protect the teen and the family. Please also remember that if your teen ever discloses issues of safety and danger, such as suicidal thoughts or plans, that that overrules confidentiality, and we will always reach out to ensure that they are safe.
GETTING STARTED WITH THERAPY:
YOUR SESSION-BY-SESSION BREAKDOWN
Prior to Your First Session:
When you first reach out to Angelus to schedule the appointment, either by phone or from completing our intake request form, you will receive a call from our Client Care team to discuss your needs and goals for therapy with your teen. After that call, you will receive a link to your child’s patient portal where you can complete their opening paperwork and background assessments. This paperwork takes an average of 20-30 minutes to complete. We ask all new clients to try to complete this paperwork within 48 hours (about 2 days) of receiving this link, and to read the information thoroughly (as we know lots of the info is very boring, but it is valuable information about how our practice runs and the ins and outs of your journey at our office). Please keep in mind that we will be unable to schedule an intake appointment until AFTER the forms in your portal are completed. This helps ensure that we can match your teen with the best therapist for them, and this will give the therapist a chance to review your teen’s information and better prepare for the first appointment. This saves valuable time during that first appointment that is better focused on what they need rather than on paperwork details.
To help build a connection and shared understanding with teens in counseling we will often ask for an email address specific to your adolescent and send them assessments on depression, anxiety or various symptoms. They can complete these in their own patient portal and feel more confident about being honest in their struggles as it can be private between them and their therapist.
This will be their official “intake” appointment. It is up to the client if they want their parent(s) in the first session, although it is encouraged for at least part of the appointment to help the therapist gain a better understanding of the circumstances leading them to counseling. With most of the opening paperwork out of the way, this initial session will include meeting with the therapist to review in depth what your teen’s needs are. The therapist will then begin to structure the counseling relationship as well as discussing the details of informed consent in counseling. The therapist will explore your teen’s past/current family history, medical/mental health struggles, and current supports or stressors.
In the next few sessions, your teen will work with the therapist on building trust and rapport. Often depending on age, this will include therapeutic games, art projects, or workbooks to begin exploring current coping skills. It is very natural during this early part of treatment for your teen to be guarded and unsure about the counseling process. They are starting to share very personal information with an unknown person. Resistance will happen if the therapist dives too deep too quickly. Please keep in mind that it can often take 4-5 sessions depending on the teen, for them to develop a strong connection and shared understanding with their therapist. Please encourage them in this process as it can be very tempting for them to pull back and want to quit after just a few appointments. Teens are generally very impatient and the idea that it could take several months to see changes can be hard for them to conceptualize on their own.
At times we can also meet with the whole family together or even the parents separate from the teens individual appointments to explore family patterns and needs that may impact and be impacted by your teenagers needs and behaviors. This will all be based on your needs and the goals developed within our treatment plan.
After a comfortable foundation has been laid between your teen and their therapist, the process of change can begin to start. The therapist will help them develop coping skills. This will allow them to start making significant changes in the way they think, act, and respond. Remember, it is up to the teen to use these skills, the therapist is only there to guide, teach, and support them through this change, not “fix” the problem that led them to counseling. Having that as an expectation will make you and them frustrated and disappointed. There is a lot of “work” involved in the counseling process that happens between appointments. There are skills to learn, communication methods to practice, boundaries to set, and lifelong patterns to change.
The wind down process:
At Angelus, we believe that the ultimate goal of therapy is to get to the point where your teen or family does not need to come in anymore. This is because they genuinely feel better and have met their goals. We see it as our mission to work ourselves out of a job by empowering your teen to manage the traumas, triggers, and stressors in a healthier way. Through the process of treatment, your teen will likely step down from a weekly frequency once there is a consistent decrease in symptoms. This can vary from every 2 weeks down to every 6 weeks depending on their comfort level and needs.
Ending the therapy process:
As the goal of counseling is to “feel better,” there will be an eventual process of deciding when they have reached the best time to close. This is an accomplishment, and it should be celebrated. However, for some, we have found that the idea of closing can be difficult and even lead to regressions. The support your teen gets in counseling is different from other areas of their life, and at times can be difficult to let go of. We will be there to help prepare them for this shift and connect them to natural support. Their last few sessions will focus on reinforcing their gains and developing a follow-up plan for maintaining their growth after the formal treatment process has ended.
“TUNE UP” Sessions:
(As needed) In the counseling process, we sometimes need check-in sessions after the completion of the “official” treatment process. This is not unusual and is not a failure in treatment. It is much like the process of taking your car in for a yearly tune-up or oil change to address the normal wear and tear it acquires by driving in Western Pennsylvania weather. This can simply be a way station to keep everything aligned and running smoothly and may only last two to three sessions.