How to Become an Adolescent Therapist

The Basics

Being a therapist is a profession that not only takes a lot of hard work to achieve, but also to keep up in your everyday life, especially when specializing in adolescents on a daily basis.

The adolescent mind is one that is tricky to comprehend. It is not as young, observant and malleable as a child’s mind, yet does not possess a great amount of maturity and comprehension as found in the adult mind. Your adolescent years were hard enough, but imagine vicariously living through your client’s adolescent lives over and over again. It’s certainly no easy task.

That being said, the art of psychology and the study of the mind are certainly fascinating when specializing in adolescent clients. However, as previously stated, it definitely does take a lot of hard work.

What is an Adolescent Therapist?

Adolescence is the period that extends roughly from age 10 to age 19. Therapists that specialize in working with this population are trained in strategies that assist adolescent clients with working through various issues, like difficulties with friends, troubles at school, relationship issues pertaining to the family, and so forth.

Adolescent therapists might have training in a variety of areas, including mental health counseling, developmental psychology or even social work. The common thread is that adolescent therapists must not only have a strong understanding of the challenges of adolescence but also be well versed in utilizing strategies that are likely to result in a positive response from an adolescent client.

That means that adolescent therapists examine everything from sociocultural influences to biological predispositions to common developmental issues as antecedents for behaviors like acting out or the development of psychological problems in adolescence like depression. Therein is the purpose of adolescent therapy – to help improve the short-term and long-term functioning and health of pre-teen and teenage clients.

What Does an Adolescent Therapist Do?

Like any therapist, an adolescent therapist wears many hats, and those hats often depend on the setting in which they work. In some instances, an adolescent therapist might specialize in working with adolescents that have a specific issue. For example, they might work exclusively with adolescents that have ADHD to help them develop strategies for staying on task during class and ways to organize their schoolwork.

As another example, an adolescent therapist might work with a student that an autism spectrum disorder to help them develop the social and emotional skills they need to have positive interactions with others.

What an adolescent therapist does also depends on the age of the client. For example, for a younger client, play therapy techniques might be used. That is, the therapist and client might role-play a problem scenario using dolls as a means of helping the client identify his or her feelings. For older adolescents, therapists might rely more heavily on using art or music as a way to help the client open up and discuss their problems.

Still other adolescent therapists might work in a residential treatment setting and focus on group therapy rather than individual therapy. That might include offering therapy services to groups of adolescents that are struggling with substance abuse. In that context, the therapist would perhaps have less of a one-on-one relationship with each child, but instead facilitate skill development and improved functioning of the group as a whole.

Another key area of work for adolescent therapists is in gathering and interpreting data. This is particularly important for therapists that work in public or private schools, where they might be tasked with administering IQ or personality tests and using their findings to develop strategies to help specific students have more success in the school environment.

What is an Adolescent Therapy Degree?

Adolescent therapy degree programs are not unlike other degree programs in related fields in psychology. One must first complete a bachelor’s degree program to learn the basics of psychology and get a well-rounded education that includes the humanities and arts, language arts, science, math, and so forth.

The next step is to complete a master’s degree that allows one to practice adolescent therapy. Though some programs allow specialization in adolescent therapy, usually, master’s degree programs are more broadly based with coursework that focuses on developing the knowledge and skills to offer therapeutic services to people.

Usually, master’s degree programs combine classroom learning with practical experiences that allow students to use their learned skills in a real-world setting. That allows students to get comfortable working to help people overcome the difficulties in their lives while under the supervision of their professor or other professionals in the field.

Master’s degree programs might offer specialization in working with adolescents, though that experience is more often found in doctoral programs. At that level, students hone their knowledge and skills about psychology specifically as they relate to working with pre-teen and teenage clients.

For example, students might use their knowledge of identity formation in the adolescent years to develop counseling strategies that help them break down emotional walls and open up lines of communication about problems or issues that their adolescent client is having at home, in school, or in life in general. That also might involve learning how to communicate more effectively with adolescents to foster an open dialogue about addressing the problems the client is having in their life.

What are the Requirements to Become an Adolescent Therapist?

Education

As with any career in this field, you must begin by obtaining a bachelors degree in the field of psychology. In your courses, you will learn a great deal about child psychology, but it is in your final and further years of training that you will take courses that specialize specifically on the adolescent mind.

When selecting a school to attend, make sure to do your research to make sure that you select a school that has a great psychology program. This will help you out later when you attend graduate school and when you ultimately get a job.

After your undergraduate degree is completed, it is highly recommended to also obtain a graduate degree with coursework and specialization in adolescent studies. This is the time that you hone in on what you specifically want to study and gain quite a bit of knowledge about it.

Training

Your training period will occur in graduate school with various kinesthetic pieces of work that will really help you get a grasp on what life will be like once you are officially an adolescent therapist in the professional world. The cycle of training is dependent upon which graduate program you choose to take, so make sure that you do your research to assure yourself that you have selected the best one for you.

Other Necessary Skills

As with any therapist, the necessary skills that one must possess in order to be successful in this field are effective communication skills, confidence, passion, and the ability to be compassionate without going too far.

Specifically for adolescent therapy, you definitely need a great deal of patience and the ability to transpose “adult” language into a conversational way that teenagers can effectively comprehend. A warm smile is something that can bring wonders to your work, as simple as that may seem.

What is the Job Outlook for Adolescent Therapists?

Careers in the field of counseling are predicted to see moderate growth over the next decade. That includes adolescent therapists, child psychologists, and similarly related occupations in which workers specialize in providing therapeutic treatments to children and teens.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of clinical, counseling, and school psychologists – of which adolescent therapists are a part – is expected to grow at a rate of about 14 percent. Though that’s not explosive growth, it’s certainly good news for people that wish to enter this field for a career.

Part of the job outlook, however, depends on the education level and experience of the therapist. For example, a student that has just graduated and entered the field of adolescent therapy will have a more difficult time procuring the most lucrative jobs in the field, simply because of a lack of experience. On the other hand, veteran adolescent therapists would likely find more career opportunities open to them by virtue of their experience in the field. Either way, the more education one has and the more experience one has will open up more doors for employment.

How Much Does an Adolescent Therapist Earn?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), clinical, counseling, and school psychologists can expect to make around $73,270 per year. Since adolescent therapists are most likely trained in one of these fields, it’s reasonable to assume that their annual salary would be about the same.

That figure represents strong wage earnings, even though it lags behind what other professionals in this field of work make. For example, industrial-organizational psychologists earn, on average, $82,760 per year.

Factors that influence one’s earnings include the level of education and work experience. Obviously, the greater one’s education and the more years of experience working in the field, the more salary they can command. Likewise, the location in which one works impacts the possible salary. For example, adolescent therapists that work in private practice often make more than those who are employed by a mental health clinical or a public school system.

The geographic location in which one works can also impact one’s earnings. For example, rural areas tend to offer less in terms of compensation than urban work settings. Of course, the cost of living is less expensive in rural communities than in urban ones, so the lower wages aren’t as impactful. Still, higher salaries with a wider range of benefits are typically found in highly populated areas.

What Careers are Similar to Adolescent Therapy?

Child Psychologist

Like adolescent therapists, child psychologists focus their professional studies and work on younger clients, though in this case that might run the gamut from a toddler up to a nineteen-year-old young adult. That is, some child psychologists spend their entire careers working with a specific age group. For example, a child psychologist might specialize in working with children under the age of five. Furthermore, they might even specialize in only working with children under the age of five that have witnessed or experienced abuse of some kind.

Child psychologists work in a variety of settings as well. Some are self-employed, offering therapeutic treatments to children in one-on-one settings. Others work in the public sector, like schools, to assist children that have social, emotional, or behavioral difficulties. Some child psychologists even work in hospital or clinical settings to provide therapeutic services to children that have a physical illness.

Developmental Psychologist

As the name suggests, a developmental psychologist studies how humans mature from one stage of life to the next. That includes an examination of childhood and adolescence and the physical, social, emotional, and behavioral changes that occur during those periods of time.

Unlike adolescent therapists and child psychologists, many developmental psychologists do not practice therapy but instead focus on research. So, instead of working with clients one-on-one or in group settings, many developmental psychologists design and conduct behavioral research, analyze their findings, and report their findings with the purpose of better understanding the changes that occur as humans develop.

School Counselor

School counselors have specialized training that allows them to work with children of all ages in a school setting. And, like many other workers in the counseling field, they have varied duties.

On the one hand, a career in school counseling means that one will spend a significant amount of time examining issues related to academic achievement. That might take the form of working with a team of educators to develop an improved curriculum, working with students to help them plan their future educational goals, or designing activities for students to develop a more acute awareness and understanding of their feelings.

Counseling Psychologist

Counseling psychology is a broad-based career that offers workers many opportunities to work with many different types of people. For example, a counseling psychologist might work at a university, teaching courses in psychology and conducting research on psychological topics. Alternatively, a counseling psychologist might also work in a large organizational setting, like a hospital or mental health center, and work as a member of a team to provide counseling to individuals and groups.

Regardless of the work environment, counseling psychologists are tasked with helping their clients overcome problems by helping them identify their strengths, develop new skills, and connecting them with resources that allow them to lead a happier, healthier life.

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