Teen & Adolescent Therapy

Adolescence is a challenging time, for teenagers and parents alike. Even the most well-balanced adolescent struggles at times to deal with their emerging adult world, related social pressures and conflicting values - and they do so often without the experience or skills to effectively cope (skills like mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness). What is more, at this stage they are naturally pulling away from their parents, and instead are relying more on their own peer group, who themselves are at times just trying to ‘figure things out’. Long term planning, executive functioning and delayed gratification are often abilities just forming, and so there are many hurdles to overcome both in the world and within themselves.

Having a therapist who can: understand the teens unique developmental, emotional, social and behavioral challenges, be empathic and supportive, help guide them, and help them develop their own internal resources and abilities can be so critical for these young people.

Common presenting issues that parents (and at times teens directly) contact us about include:

  • Emotion regulation challenges

  • Peer struggles (including sibling issues)

  • Self-esteem issues

  • Scheduling/planning deficits

  • Substance use (alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, stimulants, etc…)

  • Depression and anxiety

  • School refusal

  • NSIB (non-suicidal self-injurious behaviours)

  • Sleep issues (insomnia or parasomnias)

  • Adult maltreatment and neglect problems

  • Childhood trauma/abuse/neglect


For teenagers who present with these kinds of challenges, we often recommend Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (see our section on Therapy Approaches for more details). DBT is a structured program, the typical length of which is about 6-8 months for adolescents. There is a weekly skills group component, as well as weekly individual therapy. We create a crisis plan and treatment contract and track weekly behaviours (both problematic behaviors and adaptive behaviours) that the teen is trying to decrease or increase, respectively. We build an agenda and list of goals and use various strategies to achieve these goals. All of this is done in a supportive, empathic environment.

A related treatment model we use for some teenagers is Emotion-Focused Therapy (see our section on Therapy Approaches for more details). Often with adolescents, we find that beginning with a DBT focus, and then over time shifting to an EFT focus is useful as the teen gradually comes to handle problem behaviors more effectively, can better understand the function of these behaviours and is able to explore deeper issues around their emotions, values and identity.

If these presenting issues are familiar, and you feel the general treatment strategy could be helpful, please contact us.