Getting Creative for Therapy with Teens

Teen girl sitting on the floor

Getting Creative for Therapy with Teens

February 26, 2021 • ByTilisha Harrison, LCSW

Finding ways to creatively engage teens in the therapeutic process is sometimes challenging. Therapy can be seen as intimidating because it represents an experience that encourages vulnerability and an emotional expression young adults may not have the language for, especially if there’s some sort of mandate that is driving the engagement. Teens need to feel they are inviting their therapists into their world at a pace that works for them and not feel forced into a relationship.

A traditional therapeutic process may not translate well with teens for many reasons.

They already have a representation of adults leading and directing their lives, and the therapist can be perceived as another adult asserting decisions on their behalf. Therefore, it is essential to engage them in meaningful ways that will help them build their emotional muscles by creating a safe space for exploring those feelings.

Creating an office space that is welcoming, making it relational and relevant to the teen’s interests by placing gadgets and fidgets that draw their attention helps them understand the space is safe and inviting. It also gives the therapist insight and information on what interests the teen and how to initiate engagement.

A boy sits with a therapist in a session

Asking a teen to talk to a stranger for an hour creates a resistance depending on the capacity for expression and motivation. Allowing the young adult to navigate how much time they’d like to dedicate verbally gives them the autonomy to control how their time is spent and on what. Inviting them to create their own agendas for therapy balances the power dynamic between client/therapist and gives the teen the freedom to choose the pace in which they are inviting the therapist into their inner worlds. Setting an agenda is an activity the therapist and teen can embark on together creating room to connect through fun activities and verbal expression at the teen’s approval.

It also make sessions predictable. It helps them to mentally prepare beforehand and anticipate what the session will present. It allows them to take oneness of their therapeutic process, and in turn the client and therapist work together to foster rapport where the power dynamic is a shared experience.

There are many benefits for a therapist to be knowledgeable about popular culture, such as music, movies, social media, and fashion. These themes help the therapist relate to the teen’s identity and purpose in understanding how the teen relates to their social environments and what is important to them. It also translates that the therapist cares about what their interests are and what they see as important. Popular culture can drive conversations that lead to deeper thoughts and values.

It is important to think outside the box when working with teens.

As they are trying to figure out their place in this world through identity and emotional expression, it is helpful for the therapist to offer a different way of relating to their needs and how to engage them in the process. This process can be approached together as the teen feels safe to explore the environment that will hold their innermost thoughts, creating a predictable experience that allows for fun activities and talk therapy, and finding ways to relate more intimately with the teen through popular culture, which gives insight into identity, purpose and perspective.


. Five Out of the Box Techniques for Encouraging Teenagers to Engage in Counseling Elisabeth D. Bennett, Kathy Le, Kevin Lindahl, Spencer Wharton, and Tin Weng Mak, .
. Go With The Flow: 10 Ways to Easily Engage Teenagers Katie Gerten, November 30, 2017.

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