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When Teen Online Therapy Isn’t Enough: The Benefits of In-Person Treatment

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More teens are struggling than ever before—and the majority of them aren’t getting the help they need. According to Mental Health America’s 2022 rankings, 60 percent of youth with major depression don’t receive any mental healthcare at all. Even among the states with the best youth treatment statistics, one-third of young people are still not receiving mental health services.

Boosted exponentially by the pandemic, online therapy for teens is helping to fill this gap. Online counseling for teens provides a convenient and accessible way for teens to receive help for mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, trauma, and other mood disorders. Teen counseling online can provide the skills and understanding to manage mental health challenges and work toward greater flourishing. 

For many adolescent clients, a weekly telehealth session—with a local therapist or one from an online service such as Talkspace or Better Help for teens—is the right level of care. However, in some situations, online therapy for teens may not be sufficient to ensure their safety and well-being.

When Do Teens Need a Higher Level of Care?

Is online therapy good for teens? Telehealth is extremely helpful in providing greater access to care. However, teen counseling online may not be the appropriate level of care when teens are in crisis or suffering with acute diagnoses. Moreover, not all adolescents respond well to online child therapy vs. in-person treatment. If a client is getting worse rather than better, has experienced recent trauma, or is recovering from or at risk of a suicide attempt, online therapy for teens may not be enough.  

Moving from online to in-person therapy can make a positive difference. However, even in-person therapy on a weekly basis may not be sufficient for some adolescents. In these cases, a residential or outpatient level of care can be most effective in creating positive change and avoiding a critical situation. A treatment program provides support and structure throughout the week. Teens have the opportunity to bond with peers in group therapy sessions. In addition, residential and outpatient care for teens prioritizes family involvement, including family therapy.

virtual outpatient program can also help fill the gap. While online therapy for teens is typically once a week for approximately 50 minutes, a virtual outpatient program provides multiple hours of care several days per week. Virtual outpatient care also incorporates group and family therapy online in addition to individual therapy. Parents have access to a team of clinicians, virtual parent support groups, and family programming.

All calls are always confidential.

10 Signs That a Teen Needs the Support of a Treatment Program

There are a number of important signs parents and therapists should watch for indicating an adolescent needs a higher level of care. The top 10 signs that additional support is needed include:

  1. A breakdown in school performance
  2. Lack of interest in activities and friends they previously enjoyed
  3. Family discord 
  4. Difficulty sleeping
  5. Trouble with law enforcement
  6. Increased use of drugs or alcohol 
  7. Disordered eating patterns
  8. Anger issues 
  9. Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  10. Withdrawal from everyday interactions

If parents or therapists observe these signs, researching residential and outpatient programs that can provide additional support is the next step.

8 Top Benefits of In-Person Treatment

Here are some of the important advantages of in-person care at a residential or outpatient program.

Therapy Outside the Office

Adolescents tend to build trust and connection through action and activity as much as conversation. That’s why in-person care provides significant advantages for this age group. In a residential our outpatient treatment program, therapy doesn’t have to happen while sitting in an office. It can be on a surfboard, in a yoga class, on a hike, or during an impromptu chat.

A Full Treatment Team

While online therapy for teens is usually with a single individual therapist, residential or outpatient treatment gives teens and families access to an integrated team of experts. At Newport Academy, each client has a Treatment Team that includes a psychiatrist, individual therapist, family therapist, medical doctors, nurses, dietitians, and experiential practitioners. Working closely with the family and client, the team designs a personalized treatment plan based on a variety of in-depth assessment tools.

Family Involvement

Family therapy strengthens the parent-child bond and heal disruptions that have created a sense of distrust and resentment in the family. At Newport Academy, we recognize that sustainable healing for teens and young adults involves treating the entire family. Within the first week of admission, parents attend an orientation, learn what to expect throughout treatment, meet their child’s Treatment Team, and begin family therapy, which continues on a weekly basis.

Experiential and Somatic Modalities

Because every teen is different, they may benefit from different approaches to therapy. One teen may build self-esteem and resilience practicing Mixed Martial Arts, while another effectively processes trauma through making music in a group setting. At Newport Academy, each teen experiences a variety of experiential modalities as part of their tailored treatment plan. These include Equine-Assisted Therapy, art therapy and other expressive arts, Adventure Therapy, and yoga (depending on location). These modalities are either impossible to deliver or less effective in an online counseling context. For example, while online DBT therapy or CBT therapy can work well, it’s difficult to deliver EMDR therapy online, or other somatic (body-based) modalities.

Structured Daily Schedule

Adolescents can often make more progress in a short amount of time with in-person treatment vs. online therapy for teens. That’s because they have multiple therapy sessions every day—not only individual therapy sessions but also group and family therapy. The structure of a treatment program in itself can be incredibly supportive for teens.

Experts say that two or three months’ time in residential treatment is equivalent to a year’s worth of weekly 50-minute sessions. 

Academic Component

In Newport’s residential treatment and Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), adolescents also receive individualized academic instruction. Our educational component builds students’ strengths and motivation, so they can progress in their academic and career goals while receiving the care they need.

Peer Connections

The peer community developed within the treatment milieu—whether residential or outpatient—is enormously impactful in enhancing well-being and resilience. Having the support of peers who are struggling with similar feelings can normalize a teen or young adult’s experience, providing a sense of community that many young people have never had. It’s not uncommon for these strong connections to translate into long-standing friendships. In turn, those connections support sustainable recovery.

Alumni Support

Residential or outpatient treatment connects clients, along with their families, to an alumni network of support groups. Alumni programming creates access to a like-minded community and greatly enhancing the likelihood of maintaining long-term recovery. At Newport, clients and staff stay in touch with biannual alumni events that typically include shared meals, games, and time to reconnect.

Finding the Right Level of Care for Your Teen

Are you a parent worried about your teen’s behavior and the risk of a mental health crisis? Are you a therapist who’s concerned that your adolescent client isn’t making progress and may in fact be experiencing setbacks? A higher level of care may be the next step.

Set up an appointment with one of our Admissions experts. We’ll provide a mental health assessment and recommend teen treatment options at no charge—whether it’s with Newport Academy or another program we’ve personally vetted. Contact us today to get started.

Key Takeaways

  • For many adolescent clients, a weekly telehealth session is the right level of care. However, in some situations, online therapy for teens may not be sufficient to ensure their safety and well-being.
  • Even in-person therapy on a weekly basis may not be sufficient for some adolescents. In these cases, a residential or outpatient level of care can be most effective in creating positive change and avoiding a mental health crisis.
  • The 10 important signs listed above indicate to parents and therapists that an adolescent needs a higher level of care. 
  • In-person residential or outpatient care provides a number of important benefits, including a full team of clinical and medical experts, experiential therapy, family programming, and a healing environment.
  • Newport’s Admissions experts are standing by to speak with parents and professionals, provide teen mental health assessments, and recommend the right level of care for your child or client.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Therapy for Teens

What are the disadvantages of online counseling?

While online therapy for teens can be extremely helpful, some teens need additional support. Online therapy does not typically include group sessions, experiential and somatic modalities, or a family therapy component.

Is therapy better in person or online?

That depends on the client and their specific needs and goals. For some clients, online therapy is convenient and provides the care they need. Others may require or do better with in-person therapy or a treatment program.

What therapy works best for teenagers?

Because every teen is unique, the therapy that works best for them depends on their specific temperament, history, and interests. Some teens respond best to art or music therapy that allows them to express themselves without words. Others engage best with active modalities such as Adventure Therapy and Equine-Assisted therapy. Residential or outpatient treatment is often optimal for adolescents because it offers a wide range of modalities and opportunities for teens to engage with therapy.

Is online therapy good for teens?

Research shows that in-person therapy can be more effective for teens and allows them to engage more fully and progress more quickly toward their treatment goals.