Psychologist and teenager shaking hands in therapy session

The teenage years

is a period of great change and transition for adolescents. They are growing out of childhood and into adulthood, and often must cope with the pressures of family, friends, school and thinking about their future (i.e. what career they are interested to pursue, whether to go to university etc). Research has also shown that adolescents struggle with problems such as depression, bullying or peer pressure, drug and alcohol use (including binging habits) sexual activity and sexually transmitted diseases, academic pressures, self-harming behaviours, eating disorders and problems associated with social media. For teenagers with a disability or diagnosed medical condition, these complications can be more pronounced or exacerbated by their condition, as individuals with disabilities have other deficits, as well as potentially suffer from other issues such as social stigma or discrimination due to their medical condition.

How Psychology can help teenagers

As a social science, psychology designs to learn about the human mind to better understand what factors shape and affect it, and how our feelings and behaviours all interrelate and direct how we identify as individuals, engage and connect with others and our environment. Psychologists are health professionals who work with people who have problems coping with difficulties in their lives. Psychologists often help teenagers to deal with problems such as relationship issues, family breakdown, grief, trauma, stress, depression or anxiety. In Australia, it is estimated that approximately 13.9% of children and adolescents between 4 and 17 years old have a mental health issue, with 2.8% of the same age group experiencing a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety.

While it is apparent that psychologist can be a source of support and offer counselling to adolescents in need, it is important to note that the role of the psychologist is not to take over the individual’s problems and solve it for them. Instead, psychologists aim to evolve the person’s skills to better cope with difficulties in their lives, so that they may find solutions to their own problems and promote resilience in the young person. This may include the psychologist helping the person develop more self-esteem or change how they might view themselves or exploring the reasons behind one’s behaviour to find healthier and more useful ways to deal with his/her distress.

Mother and daughter in psychology session

What Psychology involves

Once a referral is made for a teenager to see a psychologist, the first stage of therapy is usually for the therapist to collect information about the individual’s personal history (including developmental progress), medical background, gain an understanding of their current level of functioning and main reasons for seeking psychological input. Once the person’s needs are ascertained, goals for therapy are formulated. Psychologists can also diagnose certain conditions such as mental illness or developmental delays.
The psychologist will then decide what type of therapy is best suited for their client, and it is not uncommon for therapists to draw on more than one type of psychotherapy. Common therapy types include behaviour therapy, cognitive therapy, humanistic therapy or psychoanalysis. Psychology is often referred to as “talk therapy”, as for the most part, the psychologist and client engage in conversation and try to work through the major issues. While therapy is often delivered in one-to-one sessions, the teenager’s parents or other carers or family members may also be involved, where group or family therapy is employed.

Young girl with Psychologist and mother while at home