The period of adolescence is usually full of change and growth, as teenagers develop not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally. During this time, adolescents often need to manage familial relationships, friendships and sexual relationships, pressures of school and/or work, think more about their future and goals, in the context of their altering sense of self and growing independence. For some teenagers, these experiences may be exacerbated by other difficulties, such as emotional or behavioural problems, developmental disorders or mental health issues.

What does a psychologist do?

A psychologist is a health worker who has earned a university degree. In broad terms, psychologists work in a variety of fields and their work can involve administering assessment and therapies, working in research, perform psychological evaluations, or be engaged in evoking change within organizations or the wider community. For most people, their contact with a psychologist occurs when they engage in therapy to work through their personal problems. At the core, a psychologist’s role is to assist people to sort through their hardships, by giving them strategies to better cope with any distressing thoughts, difficult emotions or stressful/traumatic situations.

Adolescent psychologist

While many of the core principles, processes and strategies employed by psychologists are similar across all age groups, working with adolescents can differ from working with adults (or children) due to the different developmental and maturity stages. Teenagers can have unique complications due to their age and phase of life. Some examples of how psychology may help an individual include:
– Excessive worrying, anxiety (including social anxiety), obsessive or nervous behaviours
– Emotional dysregulation, swings in mood, depression
Self-esteem problems
– Problems with bullying by peers
– Hyperactivity or attention-deficit behavior issues
– Dealing with stress (e.g. academia)
– Oppositional or conduct behavioural challenges
– Problems or conflict within relationships – family, friends
– Family break-ups
– Traumatic experiences
– Deliberate self-harming behaviours

Similar to when working with children, adolescent psychology is usually approached with focus on the family and social construct of the person’s life. This is done so that the psychologist can get an understanding of the entire system of the child – family, friends, school, work – so that the person’s parents can also learn ways to apply therapeutic strategies in their daily life. The greater the involvement of the key people in the teenager’s life (e.g. parents, teachers, health workers), the more consistent and comprehensive therapy can become throughout all aspects of their life. Of course, however, this is dependent on the person’s unique situation, such as level of independence and interpersonal dynamics (e.g. a client who does not have a close relationship with his/her parents may not engage well in family therapy).

How to get help

A young person’s family, peers or teachers may raise concerns about their well-being, or the teenager themselves may seek help. In NSW, one of the primary ways to access counselling or psychological services is through a GP and the mental health care plan. Under this Medicare initiative, Australians are entitled to 10 psychology sessions per calendar year, free of charge. For some people, short-term or sporadic support may be all they require. There are also options for counsellors and psychologists connected to the person’s school. For those needing more intense or long-term assistance, they may then go on to see a private psychologist, while some people may also be referred to a psychiatrist.