From a maturing body and brain to developing life skills and values, the teen years can be challenging, and mental health concerns may arise.
Teens experience a substantial amount of development in a relatively short amount of time, and it can be quite the whirlwind.
Youth counseling can help teens become healthy young adults. For teens experiencing mental health issues or who may have experienced trauma, the intervention of a youth counselor is pivotal.
Youth counseling can be quite a daunting task; but with the right resources and strategies, which we share below, you can become immensely influential in a teen’s life and have an extraordinary impact.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.
According to the World Health Organization, adolescence is one of the fastest phases in human development and is associated with very complex problems (Detek et al., 2020).
Because many teens may not have a strong rapport with adults, you may find gaining your client’s trust challenging. A few of the following strategies will help.
Self-disclosure is a technique used with any appropriate age group of clients and may be especially beneficial in working with teens. Intentional and thoughtful self-disclosure is intended to strengthen relationships between the professional and the client.
Further, it establishes trust. Not only is this mutual sharing of information helpful within youth counseling sessions, but young adults should be explicitly taught this skill, as it is also a skill for creating and maintaining friendships (Korem, 2023).
Explanation of confidentiality
It is imperative that we understand why a client may not be opening up. Are they shy? Do they not wish to discuss their trauma? Do they feel safe? Do they believe you will share everything with their parents? An explicit explanation of the confidentiality policies can help your patient feel comfortable.
Understanding confidentiality is important, but it’s especially critical for adolescents, as they value confidentiality even more than their parents do (Song et al., 2019).
Development of trust
As with any therapeutic relationship, trust needs to be established. The teen needs to believe that the therapist will maintain confidentiality and remain nonjudgmental.
This can be achieved by acknowledging teens’ opinions, having casual conversations, using humor, and assuring the teen that there are no wrong answers (Badillo-Urquiola et al., 2021).
Without a strong rapport, the young adult will not share or will not be accurate or all-encompassing when they do share.
If your teen client has been unwilling to share, and you cannot determine why, perhaps you should consider group youth counseling.
Group counseling has been effective for teens struggling with academic achievement, career trajectory, and negotiating grief and loss (Levy & Travis, 2020).
This will give the client the opportunity to interact with peers and establish common ground with people most like themselves. They may be more willing to open up and accept feedback.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
In youth counseling, it will first be important to determine if the teen’s basic needs are being met. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can help determine if they are and act as a type of checklist prior to determining the next steps.
Does the teen have enough food at home? This will address the physiological needs. The second aspect involves safety (Johnson & Mahan, 2020). Is someone at home experiencing domestic violence or a job loss? Determining if these basic requirements are being met will help to determine the therapy route.
Including various forms of expression, such as music or artwork, may help facilitate therapy sessions for teens who have difficulty sharing.
It will be imperative to be creative in addressing each client’s needs, and each client may have different needs in each of their sessions. It will be helpful to grow your toolbox of strategies to enable you to pull from a wide variety.
For more helpful tips in counseling youth, you may find Terry Hanley’s video helpful. After all, “art is fun just as much as it is seriously helpful for kids and those who care for them” (Metzl, 2022, p. 16).
Counseling psychology for children and young people
Teen Counseling: 2 Case Study Examples
Looking at case studies allows us to gain clinical competence. Studying these real-life scenarios and the ethical decision-making that accompanies them will help illustrate theoretical concepts. Here are two teen counseling examples we can learn from.
Young People in the Limelight: Towards Agency through Multiliteracies
Researchers in Finland implemented a three-year media education study entitled Young People in the Limelight: Towards Agency through Multiliteracies (YPAM; Pienimäki, 2019).
The aim of the YPAM workshops was to empower youth and prevent marginalization. During these sessions, youth created art and media, which were published. This study took on an experimental approach by assigning the young adults as co-researchers who would help determine what motivated the youth.
Youth-led Participatory Action Research
Sometimes, an experienced youth counselor may not be the best technique. Sometimes young adults learn best from their peers.
Youth-led Participatory Action Research (YPAR) is an approach that assigns teens as the experts (Edirmanasinghe et al., 2022). In YPAR, youth act as the experts and reflect on their experiences to determine the curricula of the group. This youth-led group work program that supports social-emotional learning involves real youth experiences and action-oriented projects.
If you are a youth counselor, you may consider implementing a similar program where teens are the ones leading the program. This may result in stronger buy-in from your group therapy clients.
Many counseling strategies can be used for all age groups; however, here are a few that may be helpful in addressing teens’ mental health issues. Please keep in mind that each client is an individual, and several counseling techniques may need to be explored before finding the right one.
Clients are in a calmer place when creating art. Creative arts have had a positive impact on stress reduction (Levy & Travis, 2020). The art the teen creates could be realistic, abstract, or even doodle art. Remember to join in on the fun to help encourage the teen.
What to do when teens won't talk in therapy?
Integrated Cognitive Behavior Therapy
Integrated Cognitive Behavior Therapy is unique because it takes co-occurring alcohol or cannabis use disorder into consideration.
This approach involves individual therapy, as well as family sessions. Adolescents taking part in this therapy were found to have fewer suicide attempts (Arango et al., 2021).
Trauma-informed care is another effective approach to youth counseling (Bendall et al., 2021). Trauma-informed care recognizes the diverse impact of trauma, and practitioners understand and respond to the trauma symptoms in their clients without eliciting re-traumatization.
Referencing the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (2014) four Rs, the trauma-sensitive interventions would involve:
Understanding (realizing) the widespread impact of trauma
Identifying (recognizing) the signs and symptoms of trauma among clients
Integrating knowledge about trauma into practice and policy (responding)
Because it is action oriented, this practice may be beneficial for teens. ACT involves looking at inner thoughts and accepting them. Self-talk is a focus, and the client learns to accept the hardships they have endured and make the necessary changes going forward.
4 Worksheets & Activities for Helping Teens
As we mentioned, establishing a strong rapport with your youth clients will be paramount. You can use this fairly simple About Me worksheet to get to know your client. This resource will also be helpful in fostering the concept of self-awareness.
Stress is inevitable; however, many youngsters may not know how to cope with it. Furthermore, they face a great deal of stress ranging from school, work, and relationships to newer stresses such as social media. Understanding how to handle stress will set an individual up for success. Our One-Hour Stress Plan presents clients with the opportunity to generate a plan of action and gain control.
Getting adequate sleep is critical for optimum performance for everyone, especially for growing young adults. Sleep may not be a priority for teens; therefore, our Sleep Quiz would be a great tool to encourage proper sleep hygiene.
The teen years are largely about exploration; decision-making will play a key role in day-to-day activities. Some of these decisions could have long-term consequences. Responsible Decision-Making for Children may be a helpful source in examining if the choice aligns with their values and the potential consequences of their choices.
Training in Youth Counseling: 5 Certifications, Courses & Degrees
To become a youth counselor in the United States, you will need to hold at least a master’s degree to obtain certification. Depending on the state you wish to practice in, there will be other criteria that must be met.
Many youth counselors hold a master’s degree in school counseling, and certifications will vary by state. If you do not currently hold a master’s degree, you may consider pursuing a bachelor’s degree in any of the following prior to beginning a master’s program: psychology, sociology, social work, counseling, or child development.
30-Hr Trauma Toolkit Certificate for Youth Providers – Center for Adolescent Studies
The Center for Adolescent Studies (CAS) offers an online certificate for youth providers instructed by a licensed psychologist with broad experience with youth. This three-course certificate will help you transform the lives of trauma-affected youth.
CAS also offers several trauma courses that are eligible for continuing education credits to uphold licensure in some states. These are also available online and are self-paced.
Relias offers several online courses for anyone who works with young adults. These trainings would be an excellent source of professional development for paraprofessionals.
Some of the relevant courses include trauma-informed care, substance use treatment, suicide prevention and risk assessment, crisis management for paraprofessionals, evidence-based treatment practices, and recognizing and responding to a crisis, to name a few.
To learn about these additional courses, you may peruse their site.
Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with an Emphasis in Childhood and Adolescence Disorders – Grand Canyon University
This degree is intended for students who already hold a bachelor’s degree and wish to advance professionally into youth counseling.
Grand Canyon University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers this program online with weekly start dates.
Find more information on this master’s degree on their site.
Master’s in clinical mental health counseling – Walden University
Walden University has several master’s programs for counseling. In the master’s in clinical mental health counseling, you can choose from various specialties, including addiction; marriage, couple, and family; forensic, military families, and culture; and trauma and crisis counseling.
They also offer a master’s in school counseling with a dual degree in clinical mental health counseling and school counseling to help you continue on your journey.
Both programs are available online and are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), which is required in most states for certification. If you already hold a master’s degree, perhaps the PhD in counselor education and supervision would interest you.
At-risk youth face greater vulnerability when transitioning into adulthood, and the longer they go without help, the more their life will be full of other issues.
Youth experiencing any of the following may be considered at risk: poverty, family instability, incarceration, homelessness, health issues, pregnancy, transiency, domestic violence, and adverse childhood experiences. This sensitive group may require additional strategies, especially trauma-informed therapy.
Mitchell (2023) offers a six-step model for working with youth at risk, as additional strategies may be necessary for counseling youth in poverty-stricken communities.
This framework considers building resilience, empowerment, and ambition in diverse youth. The following are the suggested six steps:
Assess the youth’s level of cultural identity.
Determine potential risk factors related to the culture of poverty.
Inquire about the youth’s environment and daily routine.
Identify possible protective factors and current coping strategies.
Implement appropriate interventions with youth’s safety in mind.
Use available resources to educate and advocate for the youth.
PositivePsychology.com’s Helpful Resources
As a youth counselor, you will have both good and bad days. On the days when you could use a little pick-me-up, you may enjoy our 54 Inspiring Counseling Quotes to Motivate Counselors. This piece will provide the motivation you need to continue to help your clients.
34 Counseling Mistakes That Therapists Should Avoid would be a great resource to prevent common blunders within the field. This article contains nine common mistakes in delivering adolescent therapy, as well as common errors in general, couples, and group therapy.
In youth counseling, it will be imperative to employ a strengths-based approach. Please refer to our article What Is a Strengths-based Approach? to learn more about this best practice and what strategies to use.
If you are interested in working with teens in a school setting, perhaps consider school psychology. To learn more about this fascinating career field and to determine if it is right for you, please review our piece 11 School Psychology Programs and Online Options.
It goes without saying that the teen years are difficult. Coupled with technology, adolescents are experiencing stressors that didn’t exist 20 years ago.
If unresolved, a youth’s mental health is compromised, which could have lasting effects on their life. Issues such as anxiety and depression, which may then snowball into other disorders, can have a devastating influence.
When working with youth as a youth counselor, it will also be pertinent to remain nonjudgmental, as with any age client. You will also want to be available. Teens open up on their own time, and we must be ready when they are.
Although the adolescent time period is the most sensitive, it is the most important, as it is the transition to adulthood (Shiri et al., 2022). The teenage group is vulnerable; however, addressing their needs is quite impactful on society.
What makes you want to help today’s youth with youth counseling? Feel free to share in the comments below why you chose this rewarding profession and what some of your favorite techniques are.
A youth counselor in the United States will need to hold at least a master’s degree in counseling. Additional criteria depend upon the state in which you wish to practice.
What are the major functions of counseling?
Counseling involves developing strategies with clients to overcome obstacles and personal challenges.
What is adolescent counseling?
Adolescent counseling is a form of talk therapy that helps young adults overcome emotional, behavioral, and social difficulties.
Arango, A., Gipson, P. Y., Votta, J. G., & King, C. A. (2021). Saving lives: Recognizing and intervening with youth at risk for suicide. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 17, 259–284.
Badillo-Urquiola, K., Shea, Z., Agha, Z., Lediaeva, I., & Wisniewski, P. (2021). Conducting risky research with teens: Co-designing for the ethical treatment and protection of adolescents. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, 4(CSCW3), 1–46.
Bendall, S., Eastwood, O., Cox, G., Farrelly-Rosch, A., Nicoll, H., Peters, W., Bailey, A., McGorry, P., & Scanlan, F. (2021). A systematic review and synthesis of trauma-informed care within outpatient and counseling health settings for young people. Child Maltreatment, 26(3), 313–324.
Detek, S., Palutturi, S., Arifin, M. A., Razak, A., Arsin, A., & Mallongi, A. (2020). Evaluation of the Ability Family Planning Center officers in the Youth Counseling Information Center Program in South Buru Regency. Medico-legal Update.
Edirmanasinghe, N. A., Levy, I. P., Ieva, K., & Tarver, S. Z. (2022). Youth-led participatory action research in school counseling as a vehicle for antiracist SEL. Theory Into Practice, 61(2), 199–211.
Johnson, K. F., & Mahan, L. B. (2020). Interprofessional collaboration and telehealth: Useful strategies for family counselors in rural and underserved areas. The Family Journal, 28(3), 215–224.
Korem, A. (2023). Opening the door of self-disclosure: Supporting adolescents’ journey from loneliness to friendship. European Psychologist, 28(2), 122–132.
Levy, I., & Travis, R. (2020). The critical cycle of mixtape creation: Reducing stress via three different group counseling styles. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 45(4), 307–330.
Metzl, E. S. (2022). Art is fun, art is serious business, and everything in between: Learning from art therapy research and practice with children and teens. Children, 9(9).
Mitchell, R. (2023). Working with at-risk youth: From a culturally informed lens. Darealdocmith.
Pienimäki, M. (2019). Improving the wellbeing of at-risk youth through media participation. Media Practice and Education, 20(4), 364–377.
Shiri, S., Farshbaf-Khalili, A., Esmaeilpour, K., & Sattarzadeh, N. (2022). The effect of counseling based on acceptance and commitment therapy on anxiety, depression, and quality of life among female adolescent students. Journal of Education and Health Promotion, 11.
Song, X., Klein, J. D., Yan, H., Catallozzi, M., Wang, X., Heitel, J., Kaseeskad, K., Gorzkowski, J., & Santelli, J. S. (2019). Parent and adolescent attitudes towards preventive care and confidentiality. Journal of Adolescent Health, 64(2), 235–241.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). SAMHSA’s concept of trauma and guidance for a trauma-informed approach. https://ncsacw.acf.hhs.gov/userfiles/files/SAMHSA_Trauma.pdf.
About the author
Tiffany Sauber Millacci, Ph.D., is an educator for both university students and elementary-aged students. She is a continuous learner who seeks facts through research and enjoys sharing her learning through her writing.