Proudly Serving Montgomery County Maryland
301 Inspiration Lane, Second Floor, Gaithersburg, MD 20878
You may not know if your tween or teen is just going through a normal “moody” phase or if it is something more serious than that. Parents, trust your gut! You know your child best, and if you think there may be a problem it is always best to get support and guidance from a professional. Psychotherapy may be exactly what your child needs. Middle school and high school can be tough and we can help your child complete these life phases successfully. our therapists for adolescents are highly skilled at helping teens through these challenging times.
If a problem with bullying has brought you to this page and you are wondering, “What can I do to help my child deal with a bully online or in school?”
How do I know if my teen is just going through a normal phase or if it is more serious than that?
Trust your gut! You know your child best and if you think there may be a problem it is always best to get support and guidance from a professional. It is better to address a potential problem than to ignore it. Often there is a lot more going on than what a parent is aware of (particularly with teenagers). Lastly, ask your child’s teachers/coaches what they think. Ask your child’s siblings what they see happening at school. If you feel comfortable, ask your child’s friend’s parents how they see your child. These people can provide a lot of good information and may know things that you were not aware of.
How do I bring up the topic of therapy to my teen?
You will probably be surprised that your child knows a lot more about therapy than you think! They may have a friend who sees a therapist or have heard about it in health class or on a TV show. One suggestion is to pick a low-key time of the day (maybe bedtime) and say “(Child’s name) I love you very much and I have noticed that you seem (behavior or feeling) lately. I found a therapist that I want us to go see to talk about how we can help you to feel better. Her job is to help kids and teenagers with any problems they might be having and to help come up with solutions. Let’s just try a couple sessions and you tell me what you think of her. You can tell her things that might be hard for you to tell us. What you tell her stays between the two of you. After the session we can go get some hot chocolate or dinner.”
Most of the time this approach works. If it doesn’t and your child/teen is very resistant, you can tell them that although their opinion is important, the ultimate decision is up to you. If they had a physical problem they would have no choice whether they took an antibiotic or not. Mental/emotional health is just as important as physical health. Maybe you could offer that they could “earn” something for being cooperative and attending therapy (later bedtime or extra book for young children, later bedtime or small toy for older children, and extended curfew or article of clothing for teens.
Once they come most kids and teens are happy they did and actually enjoy therapy!
Why won’t my child just talk to me? What’s wrong with me?
Don’t take it personally! It can be embarrassing to talk to a family member about certain topics. It does NOT mean that your child/teen does not love you or have a strong connection with you. It is just easier to talk to someone who is separate from their “inner circle” and is not as emotionally involved. It also feels good to hear that the therapist knows “lots” of other kids/teens who have experienced the same thing!
What type of therapy works best for teens?
First, the most important part of any therapeutic relationship is the “connection” that the therapist and client develop. Without this trusting relationship, no work can be done. Your therapist will work hard (but play it “cool”) to develop a strong relationship with your child/teen in the beginning of therapy. This may mean that they don’t get to the “meat” of the problem right away. Be patient. No child or teen will open up to someone who comes at them with 100 questions and suggestions the first session. Remember that they may be skeptical about coming in the first place.
After this trusting relationship is built, the most common type therapy that child therapists utilize is cognitive/behavioral therapy. This is often referred to as “stinkin’ thinkin’ “or “thinking errors”. Cognitive/behavioral therapy addresses the relationship between what you think and how you feel and act. For example, if we have teenagers who think “I never look as good as my friends at school.” In turn, they feel sad and worthless. Although the thought “I never look as good as my friends” may happen so quickly the teen doesn’t even recognize she is saying it to herself, it greatly affects the way she feels about herself.
If we were working with this teenager we might help her to be aware of her thoughts and help her to come up with alternative, more positive ways to think about herself. For example, maybe she does not dress the same as all the girls at school but maybe she has a unique style that is really cool. Another thought could be “I may not be the best dressed but I get a lot of compliments on what I wear and I think I look good”. These “thoughts” would most likely change the way she “feels”.
Some other ways to help children/teens become more aware of how their thoughts effect their feelings and behaviors could be through keeping a journal, doing exercises out of a workbook that is recommended by the therapist, deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, being involved in healthy activities that keep your mind busy, helping others, exercise, healthy eating, and more.
Another model that we like to use is the “strengths based” model. This model focuses on each individual’s unique strengths and how drawing from these abilities can make a person feel more competent and less “pathologized”. Instead of only dwelling on “problems”, this approach has the therapist continue to remind the person of their strengths and how their strengths can help them to solve current problems and facilitate recovery. We like this approach because people often learn to ignore what they are “good at” and focus only on what they need to “fix”. This approach can help teach a child to be more positive and resilient. Ultimately, we strive to provide a comfortable, supportive atmosphere that will maximize the potential for positive change.
Family therapy may be recommended to address family concerns (the whole family, just siblings or just parents). We may have another therapist do the family therapy sessions so I am not the “bad guy” to your child.
Group therapy may be recommended if your child/teen would benefit from the experience with other children in a similar situation. Some examples of this would be teen support groups and divorce groups. Please check with your clinician to see what groups are currently being offered.
How involved will I be in my adolescent’s therapy sessions? What can you tell me?
It all depends. We have some children/teens who get angry when their parent “takes over” their time with me. They never want their therapist to meet with their parent so we will often set up a separate appointment with the parent or have brief phone calls to discuss how their child/teen is doing. Sometimes we make it a routine to meet at the start of the session with a parent to “check in” about the week (particularly when working with younger children). Your therapist will figure out what works best for your child.
Teenagers DO NOT like when parents get overly involved in therapy. They see it as their relationship and their time. We respect this. If your teen thinks we are talking all the time then we can assure you they will NOT talk to us as candidly. However we do tell the teens that we have to “touch base” with parents once in a while.
We will not break confidentiality unless it is the case where a child/teen tells us they are going to harm themselves or someone else or in the case of reported child abuse.
If your child tells us they are sending inappropriate pictures on their cell phone or computer or that they are receiving these images, we will tell you (or ask your child to tell you with me there). This is considered child pornography and is illegal (even if it is being sent between two consenting teens). We recommend that parents “randomly” inspect their child’s cell phone, Facebook page, bedrooms and cars.
Computers need to be in “public” areas in the house or your child should know that you will be checking in every 10 minutes while they are on the internet. Your child has a right to privacy to an extent. Their health and safety is the most important thing. You should know pass codes and your child should know that you will periodically (not every day) check to make sure things are OK.
Can you help us with dealing with our teen’s school?
Yes. We have a lot of experience getting accurate information from teachers and staff regarding your child’s behavior, mood and academic progress at school. Often teachers are more candid with therapists because they really want the child to get the help they need and they won’t be “offending” the parents when they are talking to a therapist.
We can go to your child’s school and observe them or attend IEP (Individualized Education Plans) meetings on your child’s behalf. We can talk to your child’s school counselor about ways to help with social/emotional issues at school. We can help with organizational and time strategies for schoolwork and homework. We can recommend school advocates if you are having concerns about your child’s school placement or getting funding for your child’s school placement.
If your child needs psychological testing for a possible learning disorder, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), IQ testing, and other issues that may impact his/her ability to learn and perform at school, we can recommend and get you in touch with quality psychologists to perform the testing.
I think my daughter has ADHD but her dad doesn’t agree with me. I think he is suspicious of the medications, but I’m not necessarily set on getting her started on stimulants, I just want some answers.
Girls with ADHD can look very different then boys. As a result many girls’ diagnoses go unrecognized as well as their emotional needs, adjustments to their environment, and associated school accommodations. Here is a fun and straightforward video that summarizes the differences nicely.
Do you offer therapy session for parents alone?
Of course! You may want to come and talk about your child to get some advice on how to handle a certain situation. You may want to know “Is this normal?” or “Did I say or do the right thing?”
Often parents want to talk to someone when they have decided they are separating/divorcing from their spouse and don’t know how to tell their children. They may want to know what things they can do to help in the transition of two homes or a new significant other entering their child’s lives. Please note, we do not do custody evaluations for the courts, however we can refer you to a professional who performs this service if needed.
Finally, maybe you want to know how to help your child make friends or convince your teenage daughter that she is dating someone who is wrong for her. We can also help if you need guidance setting rules and boundaries with your younger child or with your teenager.
We have lots of experience and good ideas for counseling with parents. Sometimes come in without your child to see us is the best first step.