Adolescent Therapy: Need and Types

Their challenges may range from intentional and learning problems to abuse issues, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and family discord, to name only a few.

Take for example, after an aborted suicide attempt, Simon was admitted to hospital for in-patient psychiatric treatment. He had many problems. Aside from feeling that his life was not worth living, he was failing in school, getting into fights with classmates, stealing, and trying to cope with the fact that his parents had filed for divorce three months before. Simon was crying out for help (adolescent therapy) long before he came to the attention of the emergency department of the hospital. Though, his parents cared about him, and the school though, had programs on adolescent therapy they never really sensed the depth of Simon’s inner turmoil.

What to Do

Immediately, a problem like Simon’s or something similar is discovered, parents should think about, which adolescent therapy is most appropriate for the youngster. Some of the characteristics that most frequently describe the need for adolescent therapy are:

  • Depression, sometimes resulting in suicidal gestures or attempts
  • Inability to form positive relationships with peers or adults may call for adolescent therapy
  • Oppositional and/or aggressive behavior toward parents and authority figures
  • Incidents of running from home and/or chronic truancy
  • Adolescent therapy is needed when youngsters engage in excessive risk-taking
  • Delinquent acting-out
  • Substance abuse also calls for adolescent therapy
  • Sexual acting-out
  • Lack of motivation regarding educational/vocational goals

The adolescent therapy may include the following

  • Diagnostic evaluation
  • Individual (in-home, community based) therapy
  • Family intervention and family mediation
  • Group counselling
  • Crisis coverage on a 24-hour, 7-day basis
  • Advocacy and resource counselling


Adults have learned through time to verbalize complex and contradictory feelings and reactions. However, adolescents generally find it more difficult to eloquently verbalize such feelings: they are often overwhelmed and even confused by the onslaught of complex feelings that come as they move toward adulthood. However, for teens, most conflicts involve differences between family members or issues over expectations of parents.

For adolescents, the approach of the therapist needs to reflect their current life experience. Therefore, “talk therapy” tends not to be as effective as therapy that involves activity or experience (such as experiential therapy, play therapy, and art therapy). These forms of therapy allow symbolic expression of internal conflicts.


In equine-assisted therapy (this is where the child interacts with horses as part of a therapeutic intervention), how the child interacts with his or her animal can give rich information to the therapist. The relationship that develops between the teen and the horse reflects their issues with relationships within the family. Sometimes the therapist will notice the teenager becomes the frustrated “parent” of the horse, and the therapist can use this experience to help the child understand the nature of the conflict between themselves and their parents.


Family therapy is essential when treating adolescents with behavioral or emotional problems. Improving communication between family members and helping both the parents and the teen understand how conflicts can be resolved through improved communication often result in significant improvements in the family relationship. If there is one element in a child’s life that improves their chances for success in school and life, it is strong family bonds with positive, constructive communication. It is important that parents not feel defensive if in the (adolescent) therapy the therapist focuses on changes in how they communicate with their teenagers.

The need for such a change is not an indictment of the parents’ abilities; it is simply a part of the therapeutic process that will help them better work with their adolescent. Therapy: The goal of therapy with adolescents is to help both the child and the parents understand why they act out with rebellious, willful behavior and how they can learn to express their needs and wants in a more productive way. When parents allow the process of re-forging the lines of communication, they dramatically improve their relationship with their teenager and create an environment where positive behavioral change is possible


For the adolescent in therapy, adolescent group work can offer a safe environment where a wide variety of concerns (e.g., substance abuse, social skills) can be addressed. The dynamics of group adolescent therapy allow for interpersonal and intrapersonal growth with one’s peers and are uniquely different from one-to-one interactions with a counselor. Teens may also find safety in numbers and become more involved at the encouragement and example of their peers.


An adolescent can be reluctant and uncomfortable with verbalizing feelings. However, in the art process, “diagrams, symbols and metaphors allow the adolescent to distance . . . from the potential anxiety” of “feeling” tasks in the immediacy of the group process (Linesch, 1988, p. 142). “A form of expression is desperately needed, one which matches the intensity and complexity of (the adolescent) experience, is direct but nonthreatening, is constructive and acceptable. The creative arts provide this means of expressing the inner explosiveness of adolescence” (Emunah, 1990, p. 102).

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