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A Guide to Understanding Therapy For Children and Teens

Should I go to therapy?When should you go to therapy or counselling?

Everyone has trouble at some point in life. No one escapes problems.

You might be experiencing a situation you cannot solve on your own, you might have had something happen to you, and/or your family may have had to deal with a crisis.

As a child or teen, you are also learning how to become an adult. You have to make more complicated choices, defend your choices with peers, and learn to work through difficult relationship problems.

There are many reasons for problems and it is sometimes difficult to deal with them on your own. At times like these, therapy might be helpful.

Therapy might help you work through some of the situations you are facing. It may also help you learn the skills which will help you face future problems.

Oh, yes, there will always be problems but you can learn to become a very good problem solver.

Below are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you gain some idea if therapy may be needed:

  • Have you felt sad, frustrated, and/or lonely for more than two weeks?
  • Have you felt angry, annoyed and/or restless for more than two weeks?
  • Have you noticed changes in your sleep or eating patterns?
    (i.e. eating less or eating more, sleeping less or sleeping more)
  • Have you experienced a major problem or event at home, at school, or in your community?
  • Are you having trouble talking about difficult thoughts and feelings with your family or friends?
  • Are these difficult thoughts and feelings affecting your schoolwork, and/or your relationships with family or friends?
  • Are these difficult thoughts and feelings affecting how you think about yourself? 

*If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then it might help to talk with a therapist or counsellor.

What is a Therapist or Counsellor?

One of the questions I hear a lot is “What is a therapist?” There are many types of therapists or professionals who work with teens and/or their families.

What is a Therapist?Psychiatrist
A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor (M.D.) who has graduated from medical school with extra training in psychiatry.

A psychiatrist in New Brunswick sees teens when medication is needed to help solve their problems.

Such medications, for example, help teens deal with depression, anxiety, attention, aggression, and/or mood changes. Sometimes teens need more than just therapy to solve their problems.

A child and adolescent psychiatrist works with you, your family, and your therapist to assist you in dealing with the problems you are solving.

A Psychologist is an individual who has graduated from university and graduate school with a master’s degree or doctorate in psychology and are licensed to practice. He/she will have “L. Psych. or Licensed Psychologist” after his/her name.

A psychologist is well trained to provide therapy and, if required, qualified to give special testing to understand certain problems.

Social Worker
A Social Worker is an individual who has graduated from university and graduate school with a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in social work and are registered to practice. He/she will have “MSW", "LSW" or "Registered Social Worker” after his/her name. A social worker provides counselling.

Counsellors often have a degree or graduate degree and it can be from many different fields. Many counsellors belong to the Canadian Counselling Association or the CCA.

There is no legislative body in New Brunswick who governs counsellors so it is best to ask the individual counsellor about his/her education and experience.

What type of questions should you ask a therapist before you decide ‘who’ to see?

Questions to ask a therapist.You and/or your family want to solve a problem so you should see a therapist with whom you feel comfortable.

It is a good idea to make a list of questions you want answers to before making a decision of who your therapist will be.

Before committing  do not hesitate to ask your potential therapist a few questions such as:

  • Do you feel comfortable treating the problems I am experiencing?
  • What is your experience in treating these problems?
  • What is your therapeutic approach?
  • How does your approach work?
  • What kind of outcome can I expect? 

It is important to ask these questions since it is very normal to feel a bit uncomfortable in the first few sessions.

You need to know that any sense of anxiety, nervousness, and/or self-consciousness is a result of starting therapy and not the therapist you have chosen.

*These feelings will decrease and you will become more relaxed as you work with your therapist.

What is Therapy?

Therapy is a safe place for you talk about the problems you are having and learn to solve them. Your therapist will listen, observe, ask questions, teach skills, and help you decide how you can solve your problems.

Your therapist will not judge you and will not look down on you. You and your therapist will build a relationship of mutual trust and respect. Like in any good relationship, there will be times you agree and do not agree with your therapist.

There will be times you will not like what your therapist says. You may not even like your therapist during these periods. These ups and downs in therapy are very normal. Your therapist is not involved in your problem to agree with you but to help you solve your problem.

What does therapy look like?

1.  Your therapist will welcome you and your parent or guardian to your first session. During your first session, your therapist will talk with you and your parent/guardian, explain confidentiality and its limits and he/she will ask questions and collect any required forms.

Therapy sessions usually last 50 to 60 minutes. It is important to have a parent, a family member, or guardian with you as you begin therapy. Many unsolved problems involve family. Family members can also provide a lot of support to you during your time in therapy.

2.   In the beginning, your therapist will ask lots of questions so he or she can understand the problems you are trying to solve. During this stage of therapy, your therapist may or may not give you some psychological assessments to fill out. These assessments may be needed to help you and your therapist understand the problems you are experiencing.

3.  Your therapist will talk with you about what he or she thinks is wrong, what approach may be taken to work on the problems, and will decide if any other family members or friends need to be included in the therapy session.

4.  One very important step in therapy is goal setting. Your therapist will work with you to create your goals for therapy and help you to visualize what your life will look like when you have reached those goals.

Examples of goals may be, “feel happier about going to school,” “feel more comfortable in social situations,” “feel more confident in talking to family,” or “going to more school outings and feeling comfortable.”

5.  In the therapy session you will talk about your problem, learn skills to solve your problem, and decide what you will work on in the coming week or two. You will also review your goals as you continue to work in your sessions to see if you are moving closer to reaching them. Remember, solving problems takes time.


How Long Will Therapy Last?

Usually, you will see your therapist once a week for the first few sessions. As you start to reach your goals, the time between your sessions will become longer.

When you reach your goals, it will be time to stop therapy and try your skills on your own.

In almost all situations, therapy is not forever!

Just because you need therapy today does not mean you will need it tomorrow, next week or next month.

Talk with your therapist to decide on the number of sessions. In certain situations, some problems need a specific length of time and in other situations, it will depend on how quickly you are able to reach your goals.

How Can I Find a Therapist/Counsellor?

There are many individuals who can help you find a therapist. Speak with your parents, guardian, doctor, nurse practitioner, guidance teacher, coach, youth leader, or pastor. They can help you with a referral and begin the process.

If you have read this guide and you feel like you need help with your problem please do not hesitate to ask for help.

You can email Anne at or call 506-434-5159.

If you feel your problem is an emergency please go to your local emergency department.