Why Talk Therapy Doesn’t Work for Teens
Traditional methods of talk therapy (also known as psychotherapy) have been used in the treatment of emotional disorders and mental illness for centuries. In fact, Persian physicians are known to have used this approach with their patients as early as the 800s. It maintains its popularity today because it’s proven to be a safe and effective method of treatment for most people.
Unfortunately, teenagers don’t fare as well with this approach as other populations.
Teens Struggle to Express Themselves and Their Feelings
If an adolescent or teen lives in your home, you are probably well aware of her struggles to communicate. You’re more likely to hear a guttural grunt, a dramatic sigh or a slamming door than a complete sentence in response to your polite inquiry about her day.
You can probably imagine what a normal therapy session might be like with your teen. Young people aren’t even sure what they think or feel, so expressing themselves to someone else may simply not be possible for them.
Your child may also fear being chided or scolded for what they’re feeling, or worse, having their very real and raw emotions minimized or dismissed. Girls especially may feel uncomfortable talking about extremely personal subjects with an authoritative stranger.
It’s a Matter of Trust
Most adults have developed a level of trust and respect for medical professionals. Most teens, however, have little direct experience with doctors and an innate distrust for adults in general. To teenagers, anyone over the age of 20 is far too old to understand their world.
If the therapist understands teen culture and tries to speak the language of the time, your child is likely to view this approach with disdain. If the doctor comes across too stilted or formal, however, kids can’t find enough common ground to open up.
Even the physical orientation of talk therapy can engender distrust, as your child may feel called out or put on the spot, a bit like being sent to the principal’s office at school. Ultimately, she’s likely to maintain her sullen ground, insisting over and over that absolutely nothing is wrong.
More Subtle Signs of Resistance
Some teens go willingly or even eagerly to traditional therapy, but resist its benefits in more subtle ways. A common behavior for girls and young women is to adopt a more extreme or outlandish mode of dress. She may boast of her behavioral extremes and exploits in an attempt to shock the therapist or elicit a reaction.
If prior interactions with parents or school counselors have produced a response of alarm or extreme concern, she may attempt to seek similar responses from the therapist.
More successful intervention strategies for teens include group therapy and experiential therapy methods. These and similar approaches provide a greater level of comfort for girls and allow them to express their feelings in less direct ways.
Havenwood Academy focuses exclusively on helping girls and young women cope with mental and emotional struggles in a residential treatment setting. Our experienced staff understands the unique challenges that teens face, and our proven treatment strategies help achieve the kind of healing that’s often impossible with traditional talk therapy.