When Taylor headed off to college, she started to experience some low-level anxiety that her mom thought might be helped with counseling. Unfortunately, finding a counselor with availability that matched up with Taylor’s busy school and work schedule was a formidable hurdle.
This scenario is relatively common, says Haesue Jo, Clinical Support Lead with TeenCounseling.com, an arm of BetterHelp.com, the world’s largest online mental health counseling provider.
More than 60 percent of youth with depression do not receive any mental health treatment, according to Theresa Nguyen, vice president of policy and programs at Mental Health America, a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing mental health issues. Lack of accessibility is one major reason why.
Given that fact, it’s not too surprising that online mental health counseling is an appealing option for many.
Who Benefits from Online Counseling?
Teens are comfortable and used to communicating online and by text, so they often respond well to online counseling, Jo points out. “They have a private space where they can type stuff out and think about it, and they don’t feel put on the spot,” she says.
In addition, there are several situations where online therapy for teens can be of particular benefit:
- Teens who live in rural areas have less access to mental health services, and also might hesitate to go to the only counselor in town.
- Students on a semester abroad, or families who are living overseas as expats, might not know how to navigate an unfamiliar system for receiving mental health care.
- College students often face scheduling issues, as well as limited options. And the university counseling office may not be equipped to help with more complex or specialized needs, Nguyen says.
Another benefit? Finding a therapist you relate to can take some time, and a subscription-based model like TeenCounseling.com allows you to easily change counselors until you find the perfect fit. “Reaching out to different providers online doesn’t require the same emotional investment as going to see someone in person,” Nguyen points out.
Knowing When to Get Help
Wondering if your teen could benefit from therapy? Jo shares signs to watch for:
- Having newfound difficultly in school, such as a lack of focus on schoolwork
- Diminishing personal relationships with friends and family; for example not wanting to hang out with friends
- Changes in physical wellness, including sleeping too much or too little, or a loss of appetite
- Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy
- Irritability—and not just garden-variety teen annoyance, but where everything is setting them off
The bottom line, says Nguyen, is that if something seems off, even if you can’t put your finger on it, your teen might benefit from talking to someone. “If those nagging thoughts come up again and again, it’s up to parents to initiate the conversation,” she says. And it might take more than once. “Sometimes we’re almost relieved if they say nothing is wrong. But teens are stellar at lying to their parents or giving the silent treatment, so ask until you are confident that your teen knows you care.”
Encouraging Teens to Reach Out
Of course, one of the trickiest parts of counseling is getting buy-in from your teen. But it’s key. “The session isn’t apt to be successful if they don’t want to participate,” Jo says. “As much as you want to help your kid, it will be ineffective if you are forcing them.”
She recommends staying away from an aggressive stance, as in, “I know what’s best for you, and this is what we’re going to do.” A softer approach is more likely to be successful. She suggests saying something like, “We all want the same thing, which is for you to feel better, and counseling might be a good option.”
If your teen is just not ready, the best thing you can do is build your relationship with them, says Nguyen. “Do whatever you must to convey that you are here to support them, and then be ready with options when the time is right.”