Therapy isn’t just for dealing with a crisis. It can be helpful whether a teen is struggling with mental health challenges, experiencing high levels of stress, or simply wants to gain more self-knowledge. In each case, therapy can empower teens with new skills and tools as they take on the changes and stressors associated with this stage of life.
Teens exist where childhood and adulthood overlap. They are more independent than younger children, yet not fully independent like adults. This is a great time of life to form positive habits that can help them for the rest of their lives. While parents and family can help foster those habits, the tools learned in therapy can have a significant positive impact as well.
A therapist acts as a neutral yet supportive party who listens, offers guidance, and teaches life skills that are tailored to a teen’s individual needs. Therapy can help teens to find the strength and confidence that already likely lie within them.
Here are five life-changing skills and tools learned in therapy that will serve teens throughout their lives.
Self-awareness is something that many teens struggle with, as this is a skill and practice that develops with time and maturity. Even though teens think all the time about themselves and how they appear to the world, they’re usually not able to take a step back and observe themselves without judgment. That’s natural at this stage of life.
Evidence-based therapeutic modalities like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) give teens skills for checking in with themselves and their state of being. They learn to witness their own thoughts and behaviors with less reactivity and more compassion.
They learn how to tap into what motivates them, what their hearts truly desire, and how they fit into their family, their friendships, and their school community. These are deep questions that will help teens navigate their future, and which can be explored with the guidance of a caring and neutral therapist.
2. Emotional Self-Regulation
Between the physical and hormonal changes and the cognitive development taking place during adolescence, teens are notoriously emotional. Therefore, this is the perfect time for them to build the skills and abilities they need to regulate their emotional responses. Emotional regulation means learning to manage difficult emotions, like stress and frustration, productively and thoughtfully, rather than allowing them to have free rein over one’s mind and actions. Moreover, it means learning to channel positive emotions, like excitement and love, in healthy ways.
Emotional regulation also leads to increased skill in areas such as:
- Self-monitoring of goals
- Persistence with long-term projects
- Delayed gratification
- Decision-making with compassion
- Seeking help when necessary.
Recent research shows that therapy reliably improves adolescent emotion regulation, along with improving overall outcomes.
3. Improved Motivation
Therapy is not just talking about problems. There are many forms of therapy, with specific goals and criteria to strengthen specific skills. One of these goals is to increase motivation. Therapy can help teens understand the things that are interfering with their motivation. They can learn new ways of thinking and positive habits to help them tap into a sense of purpose and inspiration.
Motivation skills can be applied throughout their lives, whether for helping with household chores, doing online learning, finding a job, or just getting out of bed and starting your day when you’re not feeling great. Therapy teaches teens how to keep moving forward, and gives them the confidence to take control of their own lives.
4. Relationship and Communication Skills
Whether a teen is currently having difficulties with relationships or not, improving their skills in this area is one of the most important benefits of therapy. The therapeutic process guides them in forming authentic connections with others, at the same time they are learning more about themselves.
They learn how to take responsibility for their role within relationships, and to open up about what they’re feeling and what they need. They learn about mutual respect—how to seek it and how to give it. They can also learn how to ask for and how to offer support.
Communication skills learned in therapy also help teens practice speaking up for themselves and asserting themselves when needed, as well as actively listening to others and asking questions when they don’t understand something. All of these skills make for better relationships, now and in the future.
5. Setting Healthy Boundaries
Learning to set boundaries is another all-important skill. Therapy supports teens to define their boundaries within relationships, clearly communicate those boundaries as necessary, and set consequences when boundaries are crossed.
Setting healthy boundaries will support teens in creating strong and mutually supportive relationships, whether with peers, family members, or colleagues.
—Heather Monroe, Newport Academy Senior Clinician
Therapy Can Change Lives
In conclusion, therapy isn’t just for teens who are in severe distress. Therapy can help any teen become more self-aware, better regulate their emotions, be more motivated, improve their relationship and communication skills, and learn how to set healthy boundaries. The skills and tools learned in therapy are life skills that will serve teens forever.
Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2020 Feb.
Clin Psychol Sci. 2017 Jan 1; 5(1): 37–51.