Why Talk Therapy Should Be The Last Resort For Teenagers 

It’s no secret that teenagers today are under a lot of pressure.

They’re constantly bombarded with messages from all sides, telling them what they should and shouldn’t do, what they should and shouldn’t look like, and who they should be.

As a result, many teens may turn to drugs or alcohol or preferably, various forms of therapy, in an attempt to find relief from the pressure. But is therapy really the best solution?

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some of the emotional challenges that teenagers commonly face, the problem with traditional forms of talk therapy for teens, and what teenagers that are facing emotional challenges can do instead.

The Common Emotional Challenges Faced By Teenagers

There are a number of emotional challenges that teenagers commonly face. Because they’re still transitioning from being children to young adults, their brains (in particular, their pre-frontal cortex) are not yet fully developed.

As I’ve mentioned before in a previous post about teen emotions, the pre-frontal cortex is responsible for higher-level thinking, planning, and rational decision-making.

What this means is that teenagers:

  • Are more likely to act on impulse and emotions, rather than logic
  • Tend to have difficulty understanding and communicating their feelings
  • Are very emotionally sensitive to what others think and say about them
  • Have certain psychological needs (especially the Power and Belonging needs) that require addressing

Unfortunately, however, these needs are not very well understood by most adults, and as a result, a lot of these emotional challenges are left unaddressed – sometimes well into adulthood.

This is particularly the case for teenage boys, who are often seen as “less emotional” than teenage girls, are less likely to be taken seriously when they do express their feelings, and in that sense, are discouraged to seek help (in the form of talk therapy) until the later stages of these problems, when they’ve become clinical in nature.

Allow me to elaborate.

8 Disadvantages With Traditional Talk Therapy For Teens

Now, the first thought that might come to mind is, Is this is normal – why wouldn’t you go see a psychologist or counsellor for help? That’s what adults do – they talk things out with a therapist.

There’s 8 main disadvantages with traditional talk therapy when it comes to teenagers:

Disadvantage #1 – Teens Don’t Often See Therapists Until It’s Too Late

Like I mentioned previously, it’s often only when teenagers (especially boys) have gone through severe experiences for a prolonged period of time that they end up seeing a psychologist – and that’s usually after a lot of encouragement from loving friends and family.

Not all teenagers seek and/or receive therapy and are therefore left to sort things out on their own. This is unfortunate because if left unchecked their experiences become more severe when many could be managed and prevented beforehand with the right self-management tools.

Disadvantage #2 – There Is A Lot Of Stigma

There is a lot of stigma associated with “having to see a therapist.”

Teenagers are very self-conscious about how they appear, especially to their peers. The last thing they want to associate with in their newly forming identity as they grow up, is someone who “has head problems.”

Disadvantage #4 – Traditional Talk Therapy Is Very Confronting and Boring

Traditional forms of counselling and therapy are boring and do not work with teenagers:

Adults are content to sit face-to-face and use talk therapy. Young people on the other hand, don’t like this method – they hate sitting still, are self-conscious, don’t want to make eye contact, and don’t communicate with the spoken word very well (especially teenage boys).

Talk therapy encompasses all of these things that teenagers dislike – make that experience go for an hour, and it’s pretty much doomed to fail. As a result, the typical talk session can often take the form of intermittent grunts and rushing out the door at the first opportunity.

Disadvantage #5 – Traditional Talk Therapy Is An Isolating Experience

Traditional talk therapy is an isolating experience. It’s usually just the teenager and the therapist in a room by themselves.

This can actually make things worse because it reminds the teenager of how alone they feel and can sometimes be a trigger for more anxiety and depression.

Disadvantage #6 – They Are Treated As “Having A Problem”

Even after all the effort that goes into mustering the courage to seek help from a talk therapist, teenagers can diagnosed as ‘having a problem’ to deal with.

This can come in the form of a label, such as “ADHD,” “anxiety disorder,” or “depression.” While sometimes important, especially in relation to school based learning, a label can be harmful for a teenager’s self-esteem and identity formation.

Disadvantage #7 – They Become Dependent On Others To ‘Fix’ Their Emotions

The reality is that most teenagers do not want to be ‘fixed.’ What they want is:

  • To feel heard and to know that someone cares about what they’re going through (I call this the Belonging Need)
  • To feel like they’re back in control of their lives and destinies again (I call this the Power Need)

However, when traditional talk therapists give them labels and try to help them ‘fix’ their emotions, it often backfires and creates a dependency on someone else to help them through the process – the opposite of what most teenagers are striving for.

Disadvantage #8 – Talk Therapy Can Get Quite Expensive

While some forms of talk therapy (like cognitive behavioural therapy) have shown to be effective for treating depression in adults, they can also get quite expensive.

The average cost of cognitive behavioural therapy sessions is $100-$200 per session – which can quickly add up, especially if your teenager is seeing a therapist weekly or bi-weekly.

Not to mention, many families do not have the extra income to be able to afford private therapy sessions on top of everything else they’re already paying for.

Factors That Need To Be Considered For A Different Approach To Therapy For Teenagers

Okay, so I’ve now talked about the disadvantages of talk therapy for teenagers, what’s the alternative? There are a couple of things to consider:

Prevention Is The Best Cure

First of all, rather than addressing these issues when they’re at the clinical stage, it’s best if they’re identified and addressed in the early stages. The earlier you can get to the root of the problem, the easier it is to manage and prevent it from escalating and having lasting effects throughout adulthood.

This is why I believe that prevention is the best cure. And as such, a better alternative to traditional forms of talk therapy and counselling is an early intervention strategy that builds resilience and problem solving skills that teenagers can tap into whenever they feel their emotions rising.

It Needs To Be An Empowering Experience

Secondly, the experience needs to be empowering for teenagers. They need to feel like they’re back in control of their lives and destinies again. In other words, it needs to satisfy their Power Need.

It also needs to make them feel like they belong – like someone understands and cares about what they’re going through and wants to help them get through it. In other words, it needs to satisfy their Belonging Need.

To satisfy the Power Need, the early intervention strategy must be one that gives them autonomy – meaning it’s something that they can decide to do for themselves, without anyone else’s help.

And to satisfy the Belonging Need, this early intervention strategy must not be an isolating experience. This might seem contradictory to the previous statement, but what I mean is that it should be an experience that they can share with others particularly their peers.

It Needs To Be Fun!

It needs to be an experience that’s actually enjoyable for teenagers. They’re not going to want to do something that’s confrontational, boring or feels like a chore. So, it needs to be fun!

Teenagers already spend all day at school sitting down, with their heads stuck in books, or paying attention to adults talking. For this reason, the early intervention strategy should involve some form of movement or physical activity to get them out of their heads and into their bodies.

Speaking as a psychologist, in my experience the biggest thing you need to do with a teenager in therapy is to make a connection, and the easiest way I’ve found to make a connection is to do a physical activity with them (e.g. boxing).

It Needs To Be Accessible

The early intervention strategy should be available in as many communities as possible. This is important because we want to make sure that this solution is available to as many teenagers as possible.

The Solution – CounterPunch Group Workshops For Teens

So, what is this solution that I’m talking about that addresses all the factors we’ve just talked about? I call it CounterPunch™, and it’s something I’ve been working on for more than 35 years to create, test and refine over time.

CounterPunch is a 20 to 24-week results-based program that utilises a mix of performance psychology, sports science and boxing. The program teaches teenagers practical tools to both understand and effectively master the life skills needed to manage emotions such as stress, anxiety, anger and depression.

In a fun, interactive, and teenager-friendly group environment, we reveal and break down advanced strategies invented by award-winning leaders in the fields of positive psychology, exercise science, health and nutrition, and communication – strategies that the world’s top performers use to propel them to success. Strategies your teenager can easily apply to achieve outstanding results in any area of their life

Here’s a sneak peek of what parents and teenagers have had to say about it:

If you’re a parent and all of this makes sense to you, and your teenager is currently

  • Struggling with anxiety, mood swings, stress or anger
  • Finding it difficult to communicate effectively
  • Lacking consistency and resilience with their goals and tasks
  • Ace-ing it at life but wants to take things to the next level

Then I’d like to invite you to consider sending your child to a CounterPunch Group Workshop. It may just be one of the best investments you ever make for them.

Alternatively, if you’re a combat gym owner or a combat coach, and you’re:

  • interested in teaching teenagers how to self-regulate their emotions through combat sport
  • wanting to learn how to charge what you’re worth
  • passionate about making a difference in your community
  • looking for a way to grow your gym without resorting to sleazy marketing tactics

then I’d like to invite you to consider applying for the CounterPunch Facilitators’ Training program.

It’s a 3-day program and basically gives you all the tools to be able to market your combat gym as not just a place to train physically – but also mentally and emotionally as well.



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