6 Questions Your Teenager Needs You to Ask Their Therapist

 When considering a therapist or mental health (MH) or substance use disorder (SUD) program, such as a residential, Intensive outpatient program, or PHP, for teenagers, it’s crucial for parents to ask the right questions on behalf of their child. Teenagers across the board can struggle to advocate for and express themselves. It’s up to parents to lead the way. Here are the top questions we want every parent to ask teen therapists, programs, residential centers, and other professionals to make sure you’re advocating on behalf of your child. We’ve seen so many families come to us after having negative experiences due to the wrong fit, and we think these simple questions can reduce that issue.

6 Questions to Ask Your Teen’s Therapist:

  1. If it were your child, what would you do?”

This question will always pull more information out of any healthcare provider than almost any other question you can ask them. Healthcare and admissions professionals are talking with people all day. This question can help them truly give you the best advice and recommendations for your situation and empathize with you more fully.

2. “How do you handle emergencies, crises, and escalation? And how would you recommend we show up in these types of emergencies?”

Make sure you know what the professionals in your life would do if, heaven forbid, your teen’s issues escalated into a crisis. Would they refer you somewhere else? Would they talk with you on the phone? Do they know what they would need from you, and do you agree with their strategy? These are all important questions to ask upfront.

3. A results-focused question such as: “How will everyone know if we are succeeding? And how will that be communicated? What are the realistic outcomes of this program?”

Often, therapy doesn’t work for families because everyone is not clear about what “working” means or looks like. Make sure you are very clear with the professional about your goals, and work with them to create metrics that you all can track together over time.

4. “If the program isn’t working for my teen, what will you all do? How will you know, and how will you tell us? What are the top three reasons why your program won’t work for a family?”

If a program or therapist isn’t working for your child, you want to know quickly so you can move on without overspending or turning your child off of all therapists forever because of one negative experience. Getting on the same page about what “not working” looks like and means can help you make those decisions from an informed place.

5. “My teen does not want to do this and likely will tell me and everyone else who is willing to listen whatever it takes to not have to be here. How do you all handle that?”

Some therapists will tell you that they can’t work with teens who don’t want to be in therapy. Asking this question early and up front can help you weed out places that are not a good fit quickly. Most therapists who specialize in working with teens and enjoy it may chuckle knowingly at this question and share a few of their secrets about working with resistant teens. That is what you want to see.

6. “What do we do if, after the program, things start to really fall apart again? This is a big investment, and we want to make sure it sticks.”

When asking this question, you are looking for a realistic answer and someone who knows that mental health is not a quick fix. Those who really have your back will know that relapse is not only likely but something that should be planned for early on and upfront with families. You want to know that the person you’re talking with is going to be real with you but also has strategies and tactics in place that will work for your unique family situation.

Here are three red flags to look out for in their responses: 

1. Unrealistic Promises or Guarantees: Be cautious of IOP programs that make unrealistic promises or guarantees about treatment outcomes or rapid progress. Recovery is a complex and individualized journey; no program can guarantee specific results. Reputable IOPs provide realistic expectations and focus on supporting participants throughout their recovery process, acknowledging that progress may vary for each individual. There is, unfortunately, no magic pill for recovery. Good programs will embrace that fact and be honest with you about what that means for your child. 

2. Lack of Family Involvement or Support: Family involvement is essential in the treatment of adolescents and teenagers. Red flags may include IOP programs that do not encourage or include family therapy sessions or support for family members. A quality program will recognize the significance of the family’s role in the recovery process and provide assistance to caregivers. 

3. Poor Communication or Transparency: Pay attention to how the IOP communicates with you during the admissions process. Red flags include a lack of clear communication, difficulty reaching staff, or evasiveness when answering your questions. A reputable IOP should be transparent about its treatment approach, privacy policies, and costs and be responsive to your inquiries. If a program is hard to get in touch with in the beginning or is not transparent about its approach to specific diagnoses, you should avoid working with them. 

Finding the Right Fit

Finding the right fit is so important for teenagers. If a child has a bad experience with therapy, it can be that much harder to get them to try it again with another type of professional. Vetting the programs that are out there and really making sure you’ve done your due diligence can help teens have a good experience early on that can open doors for them in the future.