Depression in adolescents, difficulties in diagnosing teen depression, treatment options, and hope for parents of depressed teenagers
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What Does a Therapist Do and How Do They Help

By Rebecca J. Stigall

Therapy has landed a reputation as scary and intimidating, thanks in part to movies like "Girl Interrupted" with Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder. But is that what going to a therapist is really like? Do you lie on a couch and bare your soul to someone who gets paid to listen? How does that help?

The truth is that going to a therapist is a lot more like Tony Soprano's visits to his psychiatrist than the silver screen version of "Girl Interrupted." Although there are many variations of therapy, including group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and dozens of others, getting psychological help can be a lot like talking to a friend – a friend specially trained to help you through the tough times.

Therapists can be helpful in getting you over many of the bumps in the road of life. Sometimes you need to see a therapist for just a few weeks, while other times you might need to talk once or twice a week for several years. The goal of any therapist is to help you solve your own problems and give you the skills you need to combat those problems on your own in the future.

Group Therapy for Children and Teens

Some schools and community organizations offer group therapy sessions led by a school counselor or psychologist. These groups can be formed to help kids of various ages, from elementary school through high school, learn more about issues that bother them and how to solve them.

Many groups for younger students focus on such issues as bullying. These groups can include both those kids that bully and those being bullied. The idea is to get everyone together in a safe place to talk about what teen bullying is, how it affects people, and how to stop it.  It's also important to discuss how to protect yourself from bullies and how to know if you are being a bully. Older teens might become involved in groups that focus on eating disorders, school violence, or self-esteem.

The Benefits of Individual Therapy

People who visit a therapist alone, rather than in a group, often do so because they have a problem that they don't feel comfortable talking about with others. Individual therapy is also appropriate when a group is not available or a person's issue is more complex and requires personalized attention. Although every emotional or psychological issue is important, some just don't lend themselves well to group interactions and are best dealt with one on one. 

Speaking with a therapist can be more helpful than talking with someone you know because a friend or family member might not be able to help you face the issues you need to deal with head on. Friends and family might not know how to help you deal with these issues or might worry that they will hurt your feelings if they talk to you truthfully. You might feel the same way.

Therapists are specially trained to deal with a broad range of issues. They have not only explored many of these issues on an academic level (in school), but they have also talked to a lot of other people who have the same problems as you. They've received specialized training so they know what helps and what doesn't. Their job is to help you work through the issues affecting your life, whatever those issues may be.

Although therapists are paid professionals, most become therapists because they want to help people. So even though you know that you are talking with someone who gets paid to help you, rest assured that your therapist really does want to help you feel better. He or she can help you set goals, create new coping strategies that work for your particular situation, and even just let you do a bit of venting when you've had a bad week. Ultimately, even though the long-term goal of any therapist is for you to make things work on your own, he or she will give you tools that you'll be able to use for the rest of your life.

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