How To Find A Therapist To Help Your Teenager With Their Social Skills Or Social Anxiety

Your teenage son or daughter is struggling socially. Maybe they were a bit shy or quirky when they were younger, but nothing serious enough that you thought about getting them help at the time. Now they're in high school and things have gotten worse. As far as you can tell, they have no or very few friends. They don't connect with their peers. They're withdrawn. If they talk to you about it at all, they seem hopeless and defeated about the idea of having a social life.

You're at the point where you're thinking about having them see a professional, but you don't know where to start looking for one. (Whether they'll actually want to go to a counselor is another story, but you'll cross that bridge when you get there. For now you just want to see what's available.) This article will go over the ways you can find someone who could help your teen.

The good news is there are plenty of options out there. In fact, there are generally more supports for kids and teens with social problems than for adults.

(Note: While I do social skills coaching myself, at the moment I only work with adults who are 18 and over.)

Some considerations while searching for professional support

One-on-one and group therapy

There are two broad types of professional help you can get for your teenager. The first is to have them work with a counselor one-on-one. The second is to enroll them in a group program, like a twelve-week social skills training group for adolescents. An obvious benefit of groups is they allow your child to learn and practice with peers who are going through the same thing they are. Groups aren't available in every city though.

These articles go into more detail about one-on-one and group therapy:

The Option Of Seeing A Therapist About Your Social Issues
Therapy And Support Groups For Social Skills Issues

Options for paying for counseling

If you know how you plan to pay for a potential therapist, it can help you know where to start your search.

What type of therapist should you look for?

Ideally you want to find someone who has experience working with teenagers, and in helping their clients work past obstacles like shyness, social anxiety, and underdeveloped communication skills. Those are common problems among teenagers, so many therapists who work with that age group will have experience in treating them.

However, while expertise in specific areas is one big factor to look for in a counselor, so is how well they click with their client. It's possible your son or daughter could see a therapist who's great on paper, but they won't feel much rapport with them. They might connect better with a different counselor who's a little less-experienced. That's okay. At least they're going to see someone.

What's the difference between the various types of mental health professionals?

People who have never had to use a counselor before often get confused about the differences between terms like "psychiatrist", "psychologist", "social worker", "therapist", and so on. I'll quickly explain the ones you're most likely to come across:

Overall, if you're looking for a counselor for your teenager, the exact type of degree they have doesn't matter a ton. Assuming they've been doing the job for same amount of time, a social worker is just as likely to be an effective therapist as a psychologist. What's more important is any one professional's level of knowledge and experience with a particular issue, as well as how well they click with their client.

If you're trying access specific things like medication, a diagnosis, or an assessment, what degree someone has comes into play. Usually only psychiatrists can prescribe medication. It varies from location to location, but not every type of therapist is allowed to make a diagnosis or do certain types of assessments.

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Ways to find a counselor for your teenager

The process of searching for a counselor and learning what services are available in your community can seem daunting. You may be thinking you already have enough on your plate, and don't need this as well. Like with any seemingly big project, if you get started and take it one step at a time, before you know it you'll have made more progress than you expected.

If your teenager is in university, ask them if they'll visit their school's counseling center

Most likely the teenage son or daughter you're worried about is still in high school. However, if they're in their late teens and attending university, they likely have access to free or low-cost counseling through their school.

Do an online search for local counselors

Use terms like (Your city) social skills counselor for teenagers, (your city) adolescent social anxiety therapist, or (your city) social skills group for teens. You may have to play around with what search terms you use, but you shouldn't have a problem coming up with plenty of options to go through.

Look through the therapist listings on Psychology Today's website

Psychology Today currently has the biggest, most-widely used therapist directory. If you do a search for local counselors it will likely come up in the results. You can use the filters to narrow down the list to providers who work with adolescents and social issues. Psychology Today also has listings for therapy groups, though it won't list every one in your city.

If you have insurance, see if they have a list of providers in their network

From there you can contact the counselors directly or see if they have a website where you can learn more about them.

Ask your doctor for a referral

Your physician may have a therapist or service in mind they can point you to.

Ask a friend or colleague for a recommendation

If you know someone who's own child has had social issues, and you're comfortable broaching the topic with them, ask if they can suggest a therapist or agency to you.

Talk to someone at your teen's high school

Someone at your son or daughter's school may have good knowledge of what supports are available in the community.

Do an online search for local agencies

Bigger agencies are likelier to provide a range of services, not just one-on-one counseling. You could do a general search for something like (your city) counseling agency. You could also search for agencies that serve groups likely to struggle with their social skills:

At more-specialized agencies your teenager may need to be diagnosed with the condition they focus on to be seen there. But even if you can't use their services, if you contact them they may be able to point you in the right direction.

Call a bigger community mental health agency and speak to their Intake Worker

The person responsible for intake will be knowledgeable about local resources. They won't necessarily be able to point you to a specific therapist, but may make you aware of other agencies or programs you would have missed otherwise.

Another option is finding a therapist who does online counseling from farther away

More and more counselors do sessions over video chat. Others offer services over the phone, or by text and email. This could be a possibility if you're in a rural area. There may not be many counselors in your vicinity, but there might be someone qualified in a nearby city your teenager could work with long distance. You might have also learn about a therapist through your research, perhaps by finding an article they wrote. You could like what they have to say and think they could help your son or daughter. If they offer online counseling then that's an option.


If you haven't seen it already, here's a related article you might find helpful:

How To Help Your Older Teenager With Their Social Awkwardness