Choosing a Counselor

When you have a troubled teen choosing a counselor can be imperative to their response to treatment. Therapy for struggling teens requires a connection between the teenager and the counselor. Keep reading for professional counseling options and types of counseling available.

When a teen needs help, a parent’s best move may be to take him or her to see a counselor. Parents may be overwhelmed, however, by the number of counselors available. Because a good counselor can be crucial in getting help for a struggling teen and his or her family, it is important for parents to choose the right counselor for their situation.

There are many types of counselors available to help parents and teens, and it is helpful for parents to understand what the different types of counselors and therapists do to help them know which counselor to choose.

Some of the professionals who provide counseling services can include:

  • Family doctors. Family doctors are often the first person to turn to in getting help for troubled teens, as they can diagnose any underlying health problems and help parents determine what kind of therapy may benefit the teen.
  • Psychiatrists. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have extra training in helping people with mental and emotional problems. In addition to offering counseling, they can also prescribe medications.
  • Clinical psychologists. Clinical psychologists also have the title of doctor, but they have a PhD or PsyD, meaning they did not go to medical school, but instead focused their education on evaluating and treating mental and emotional problems.
  • Licensed counselors. A licensed counselor has an advanced degree and a state license in some specialty such as family therapy or psychology.
  • Marriage and family therapists. Marriage and family therapists are trained to help couples and families resolve problems. In most states, a marriage and family therapist is licensed.
  • Social workers. A social worker has a degree and training in evaluating a child in relationship to his or her family or environment. A licensed social worker has an advanced degree and has met the licensing requirements of the state.
  • Neuropsychologists. People with a specialty in neuropsychology have an advanced degree in working with brain injuries or illnesses.
  • Pastoral counselors. This term refers to a religious worker, including pastors, rabbis, and ministers, who has training in counseling. Not all religious leaders who provide counseling are necessarily licensed or trained in counseling.
  • Nurse practitioners. In most states, nurse practitioners with a focus on mental health and psychiatry can provide medication and treatment for troubled teens.

In addition to the many types of counselors to choose from, there are also many types of counseling. Often a counselor will have a specialty in one or several types of counseling, such as:

  • Individual psychotherapy. This therapy often focuses on helping the teen express his or her problems and then find solutions for managing them. It is usually meant to help the teen be responsible for his or her own well being.
  • Cognitive behavior therapy. This type focuses on helping teens to understand and modify how they think about or perceive things that may be causing negative problems for them.
  • Behavior modification. This focuses on setting up rewards and punishments to change undesirable behavior.
  • Group therapy. This kind of therapy brings together a group of people with similar problems to discuss their problems under the therapist's guidance.
  • Family Counseling. Family therapy focuses on helping the whole family work together to solve problems.

Therapy often occurs in an outpatient setting once a week for about 50 minutes, but the circumstances may change depending on the person's needs. Everything said during a therapy session is kept confidential, except in certain cases such as if a person says they are planning to harm someone else.

Before choosing a counselor for their teen or family, parents should ask a lot of questions, like:

  • Does everyone involved feel comfortable with the therapist chosen, especially the person whom the therapist will be helping?
  • What training does the counselor have?
  • Is the counselor licensed and/or accredited?
  • What kind of reputation do they have?
  • What experience do they have with teens?
  • Have they been successful helping others with problems similar to those the teen is struggling with?
  • Will they work with others in the teen's life, including law enforcement officers and/or teachers if needed?
  • Will they accept the family’s insurance or payment plan?
  • Will they create a unique plan for your situation and make progress reports toward the goals?
  • What happens if the therapist is not available, such as in an emergency?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the person's training and methods, and to shop around for a counselor everyone feels comfortable with. This may include one whose gender, ethnic background or race, and/or religious beliefs make the teen and his or her parents feel comfortable.


Child Welfare Information Gateway, "Selecting and Working with an Adoption Therapist" [online]

SAMHSA's National Mental Health Information Center, "Choosing the Right Mental Health Therapist" [online]

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, "Finding a Therapist" [online]

Related Article: Family Counseling >>