Can Therapy Work With Troubled Teens?

Can therapy work with troubled teens? Will it help with your defiant, depressed or out-of-control teenager? Maybe your teen (or tween) is drinking or using drugs, typically the first step is getting them help through counseling, also known as therapy.

The question, can therapy help with your troubled teen, is different for each family. In most cases it is absolutely beneficial to speak with someone objective.

Local Therapy


1. Local therapy. With teenagers this is not always easy, since some will refuse to attend or will stop engaging with their therapist. What can be more frustrating is when they start manipulating the counselor. Sometimes you need to switch therapists to find one that can relate to your teen; however, you may get to a point when you realize it is simply not working.

To find a local therapist, start with your medical insurance. Staying in-network will help you have financial coverage. If you do not have medical insurance, reach out to your school counselor for assistance. They can usually provider local resources that will work with families that do not have insurance coverage.

Have you tried online therapy? Since the pandemic we have seen a spike in virtual therapy but there are pros and cons to this method of counseling when it pertains to adolescents.


  • Convenience of home. Parenting difficult teenagers is becoming more challenging especially if they need mental health services.

Many parents are not able to get their teenager in the car — which makes getting to the therapist’s office nearly impossible. With online therapy you can connect with a therapist from virtually anywhere at any time. Online services provide access to therapeutic support quickly and with little hassle.

  • Reduced stigma. Teens are all about appearances, with online therapy it is unlikely they are going to bump into peers at the therapist’s office, nor do they have to share they are going to a doctor appointment. Many teens feel embarrassed about seeing a therapist and fear their peers may find out. Virtual therapy can reduce many of these concerns.
  • Comfort of the internet. Let’s face it, this generation grew up online, most teens enjoy and are most comfortable chatting over a computer than talking to a therapist in-person.


  • Lack of personal interaction. The absence of face-to-face contact may impair treatment — this is a serious drawback to online therapy especially when it pertains to troubled teens that can be manipulative. Mental health professionals learn a lot of information by watching someone’s body language and nonverbal cues.
  • Technology glitches. Online therapy comes with the added pressure of you and your therapist relying on an internet connection. One or both of you may lose service, interfering with your ability to connect when desired or needed. This should be discussed with your therapist on how this situation will be handled if internet service is lost.
  • Lack of privacy and confidentiality. Although they are in the comforts of your home, do they feel it is a safe space to speak freely? Are there distractions? Keeping your personal information private is a major concern in psychotherapy, but online treatment adds a layer of complexity. Confidentiality is just as important in online therapy as it is in more traditional forms of treatment delivery.

Is online therapy effective for troubled teens? It depends on the teenager, research has found that online therapy can be effective at treating anxiety, depression, and trauma.

Online therapy can be an effective and convenient way to access mental health services. But that does not mean that it is right for everyone. Whether or not online therapy may be appropriate for you depends on your teenager’s condition and the severity of their issues.

2. Outpatient therapy. This can be beneficial to teens that require more clinical hours weekly. It also gives them group therapy which can be beneficial in helping your child know they are not alone. The one negative is they are still in their home environment and surrounded by their friends (if they have negative influences) as well as with their devices. Like with attending traditional talk therapy, your teen must be willing to attend, which can be another hurdle for some.

Outpatient treatment is typically recommended through your therapist when they believe your teen can benefit from extended clinical hours.

3. Short-term hospital stay. In some situations, a short-term adolescent psychiatric hospital can give you an evaluation that helps you with a diagnosis for your teen’s behavior and medication to address it. Will they continue the medication at home, and will they continue with therapy? Many parents have placed their teenagers in the hospital for a short time, it rarely has any long-lasting impact on their behavior.

The common struggle parents face is although their child may be prescribed medication, unless it is taken regularly and followed up with their therapist, it is unlikely to be effective. Many of these defiant teenagers do not believe they have a problem – or will blatantly refuse or hoard the pills.

Many parents have use short-term hospital stays when they are faced with a crisis. Whether their teen is threatening suicide or to harm someone, possibly self-harming themselves – these can be a short-term solution to stabilization. It can keep your child safe until you find a long-term therapeutic setting for them.

Therapy in Residential Treatment Centers

If your teen has failed or is unsuccessful in communicating with their therapist locally, it might be time to consider a therapeutic boarding school or residential treatment center where therapy more structured and consistent. They are unable to hide behind their mask of manipulation — whereas attending once or twice a week it is easy to create an illusion of what they want their therapist to believe about them.

When a teen is removed from the stressors and triggers of home – not to mention their peer influences and especially devices (social media) – with a slowed down manageable pace – and placed into an environment with staff, activities (enrichment programs) and therapy designed to encourage change – (build self-worth) – the opportunity for the kind of true and deep change required to turn your teen’s life around can finally start to happen.

consistent and positive environment replaces the toxic environment they are leaving. They will not have access to drugs or alcohol – or their social media or devices. The peer influences are now cut-off. If they have been struggling academically, often this new and unique environment is where they will begin to thrive again.

If there was family discord, the destructive cycles with siblings and/or parents are now stopped and communication is deliberately slowed down to include mediated conversations, letter exchanges, and intermittent visits.

Making the leap into residential treatment is a major emotional and financial decision, contact us for more information if you believe you are ready for this step.

Also read:

5 Benefits of Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Where Can I Send a Troubled Teenager?

Help Your Teens With

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Many parents are at their wit’s end with the challenges of raising teenagers. If you are considering residential therapy, contact us for a free consultation.

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