I’m often asked by parents, “Roy, I know my teen needs to see a therapist, but I have no idea where to start. Help!”
With all of the titles, various licensing boards, and multitude of options available for mental health services, it can be daunting to even begin looking for a counselor, much less finding one that will be a good fit for your teen. Below is a rough outline of a process I might use if I were looking to find a counselor for my child.
For many, paying “out of pocket” for counseling services is not an option. If you have insurance coverage look into your plan to see if you have mental health coverage. If you do, make sure you understand what’s covered and what’s not. Review the list of people who are “in network.” This would include psychotherapists such as counselors (LPC – Licensed Professional Counselor & LMFT – Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist), social workers (LCSW – Licensed Counselor Social Worker), addiction counselors (LAC), psychologists (PhD and PsyD). Some may have multiple designations. For instance LPC, LMFT is a very common combination. There should be names listed under counseling, psychotherapy and psychologists. “in network” providers usually accept insurance as payment and file with your insurance provider on your behalf. You should also check to see if your insurance reimburses you, and if so at what rate, should you choose to see someone out of your network. I, for example, am not on any insurance network plans, so my clients generally file for “out of network” reimbursement.
Check with your employer to see if you have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program). Some employers contract with therapists for a set amount of sessions and provide those sessions to their employees as part of their benefit package. The upside? It’s free. The downside? EAP’s usually cover a limited amount of sessions which may not be enough to cover the course of treatment. You can usually continue with that counselor if you’re willing to pay the fee for service.
Take the list of names from your plan and share them with friends or a counselor you may know. Ask them if they can recommend anyone from the list they think would be a good fit for your teen. Many hesitate to ask their friends because they don’t want anyone to know they need a counselor or out of respect for their teen’s privacy. This is understandable, so you might see if you can discretely ask a trusted friend to ask for you. You might even say “A friend of mine asked me if I knew of any counselors who worked well with teens…”
Look them up Online
Google the names you’ve found. Some may even have on their website their areas of specialization. While most counselors see a variety of clientele, you can usually get a good feel for a therapist by looking over their website and any publications they have produced or in which they have been featured.
Make the Phone Call
It never hurts to call. Call the names that have surfaced from your research and ask to speak briefly with the counselor. If you can get them on the phone, ask them if they have experience working with teens and if they enjoy working with teens. Most counselors will be honest with you. If they do not, ask if they may be able to refer you to someone who does. Then call that person. If you cannot get through to the therapist, the receptionist or office manager should be able to answer those questions for you.
Make the Initial Appointment
Most counselors will ask to meet privately with a teen’s parents first. During this appointment you will get a good feel for the personality of the therapist and whether or not your teen will be a good fit with that particular therapist. While its important for the therapist to be a good fit for parents and the teen, just because you (the parent) like the therapist, does not necessarily mean your teen will connect with them.
During this initial session, you want to make sure you ask:
- When and how often should we expect communication from you?
- How do you handle the confidentiality? What exceptions do you make with teens and confidentiality?
- How can I/we best support you, our teen in this process?
When will you be able to give us feedback on the frequency and duration of counseling?
- What will progress look like for you and how quickly should we expect to see signs of progress?
- If there is something we feel is important that you know that comes up between sessions, do you want us to tell you and if so, how?
How do I get my teen to agree to counseling?
This can be tricky. Most teens I work with don’t want to come into counseling. Who can blame them. They’re thinking “Hmmm….let me see….I am going to tell a perfect stranger about my most intimate thoughts, concerns and embarrassing problems.” Some also think “Great, now in addition to all the other things my parents think about me, now they think I’m crazy and need professional help. I’m that bad off! Wow!” These are normal and to be expected. An experienced therapist knows your teen is thinking these things and has an array of tools to welcome and work with their resistance. Encourage your teen to “just give it a shot.” You can even go so far as promising them, “Look, if you don’t get anything out of it after a few sessions, we can talk about stopping. Sound fair?” You can also say “You don’t have to tell the therapist anything you don’t want. Now, the more open you are, the more you’ll get out of it, but s/he isn’t going to make you talk.” This is usually enough to convince teens to give it a try.
Understand that it is a Process
Counseling is a process. The best results happen over time. In certain situations, there is more urgency, but for most, counseling is not working through urgent, life threatening or severe life altering situations. The real work in counseling is dealing with the non obvious issues lurking beneath the surface causing the problems (usually symptoms of the real problem) that you and your teen are experiencing.
Sometimes after a session or two, you realize counseling is not a good fit. That’s OK. Try a different therapist. Ask that therapist for a referral to another therapist. There are a lot of factors that make for a “good fit” in the therapeutic relationship with teens. Don’t be afraid to speak honestly with your teen’s counselor if/when you and/or your teen thinks the relationship is not a good fit.