Creating a teen-friendly environment in therapy

By Lucie Hemmen, PhD

Teens today are experiencing more stress than ever, which means greater numbers are referred to therapy. Therapy is a place teens can ventilate feelings, explore emotions, and build strong coping and communication skills. To help a wary teen stick with therapy, consider these tips:

Have a teen-friendly office. When teens enter your office, you can be sure they’re checking it out to see if it (and you) will be comfortable. Remember, teens feel awkward often and appreciate small gestures to put them at ease. Cozy throw blankets, vanilla-scented candles, a jar of gummi bears (to eat or craft into art), and squishy hand toys are big hits with teens. Many will say yes to a cup of tea, which soothes them and gives them something warm to hold. (Bengal Spice tea is a teen favorite.)

Be teen friendly. No matter what, exude and extend unflagging warmth and interest. Start by letting the teen know (either on the phone or at the beginning of the first session) that you are more than happy to get the ball rolling by asking questions. Be prepared to engage fully until teen clients become more comfortable with bigger pauses and deeper processing. Begin with general questions about their lives, friends, and activities so they can get a sense of you as a safe and interested person they can trust.

Wary skepticism is an understandable defense for a vulnerable teenager entering therapy! Noting these tips will help make therapy something to stick with. 

Lucie Hemmen, PhD is a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Santa Cruz, California. For the past 20 years, she has worked with teens, their parents, and their communities in programs designed to maximize health and well-being. Dr. Hemmen provides consultation on many teen-related topics to parents, community schools and organizations and conducts seminars for parents, pre-adolescents and adolescents. She is the mother of two daughters, one teen and one pre-teen, who supply her with daily lessons about parenting. For more teen communication tips, visit her blog at


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