Treatment plans for pre-teen and teenage mental health problems and conditions
Mental health treatment for your child starts with a mental health assessment. This will help to work out the issues that are affecting your child’s mental health and wellbeing.
The assessment should result in a treatment plan that aims to improve your child’s wellbeing and reduce their symptoms. It can also aim to build on your child’s strengths and support their development.
The plan should focus on things that your child finds difficult or that trigger your child’s symptoms or make them worse.
As part of the treatment plan, the mental health professional might say your child needs a particular type of therapy. You can understand what a therapy can do for your child by asking questions and writing things down when you’re with your child’s mental health professional. It’s also OK to phone afterwards if you want more information.
Some common mental health therapies are explained below.
Mental health treatment plans describe the support that people need for their mental health problems. If your child has a diagnosed mental health condition like anxiety or depression, you can use a formal Mental Health Treatment Plan from a GP to get Medicare rebates for up to 20 mental health sessions from psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists each calendar year.
Acceptance and commitment therapy
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) comes from cognitive behaviour therapy. It uses mindfulness and other strategies.
In ACT, your child will learn to accept things that are out of their control and the way this affects their thoughts and feelings. They’ll also learn to accept that their emotions are appropriate responses to situations.
Exploring values is an important aspect of ACT too. Your child will learn how to commit to changing things like behaviour so these things better match their values.
Behaviour therapy is a major component of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), but it’s also a separate therapy.
Behaviour therapy focuses on your child’s behaviour. The therapist will plan activities that help your child develop skills to deal with difficult situations. The therapist will also use a step-by-step approach to help your child work through difficult situations and emotions.
Cognitive behaviour therapy
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a structured psychological treatment that recognises that the way we think (cognition) and feel affects the way we behave.
CBT helps your child recognise unhelpful or unhealthy thinking styles and behaviour habits. Your child then learns to consciously and deliberately change their thinking as a step towards changing the way they feel and behave.
CBT can be used to treat problems like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, uncontrollable anger, substance abuse and eating disorders. Your child can have CBT one on one with a professional, in groups or online.
Counselling is a ‘talking therapy’.
If your child sees a counsellor, your child will talk about their situation with the counsellor. Counsellors don’t often offer advice. Instead they help your child make their own decisions and find their own solutions.
Counselling is usually a one-on-one therapy.
Art, music and dance or movement therapy are all forms of creative psychotherapy, which can help your child cope with emotional, relationship or behaviour problems.
Mental health professionals use these therapies to help your child understand, communicate or express themselves in new and more positive ways. These types of therapies are often very helpful for young people who find it difficult to express themselves with words.
E-therapies are also known as online therapies or computer-aided psychological therapy. Some therapies – for example, CBT and behaviour therapy – work well as e-therapies.
Most e-therapies teach your child how to identify and change patterns of thinking and behaviour that might be stopping them from overcoming anxiety and stress.
E-therapies can work just as well as face-to-face services for some teenagers with mild to moderate anxiety and/or depression. But they’re not for pre-teens or teenagers who are in crisis or seriously unwell.
Family therapists work with your child and the people who are important to your child, especially family members. This can be useful because close relationships are often the way to help someone recover from difficulties and improve life.
During a family therapy session, a family therapist encourages family members to think about each other’s viewpoints, experiences and beliefs, find constructive ways of supporting each other, and solve problems together.
Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a type of psychotherapy based on the idea that how people communicate and interact with others can affect their mental health.
The goal of interpersonal therapy is to help your child understand how their experiences of social interactions and issues – for example, at school or in relationships – are affecting their mental health. The therapist will help your child improve their communication skills and manage their emotions.
Some pre-teen and teenage mental health conditions can be treated with medicines. Medicines can help to reduce symptoms.
If a medical professional prescribes a medicine for your child, the professional will usually combine the medicine with other therapy and support to help your child get better.
Mental health medicines can have side effects. It’s important to ask about these, so you and your child can make an informed decision about using medicines.
If your child has a mental health condition and the mental health professional prescribes a medicine, your child usually has the right to decide whether to take the medicine.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and manufacturers of antidepressants do not recommend antidepressant use for depression in young people under the age of 18 years. But guidelines published in 2011 indicate that fluoxetine can be considered for children under 18 years with moderate to severe depression.
There’s clear evidence that, for adults, practising mindfulness can have health benefits.
For example, studies suggest that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can reduce stress and improve other mental health issues. They also suggest that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can help people with depression stay well and avoid depression in the future. It can work just as well as antidepressants.
There’s growing evidence that mindfulness is also effective with children and teenagers.
Psychotherapy aims to help your child to understand their problems better. CBT and counselling are both types of psychotherapy.
In psychotherapy, a trained therapist will talk with your child about your child’s thoughts and feelings. Your child and their therapist will work on the way your child thinks about things and try to understand how your child interacts with others. The aim is to help your child manage problems in different ways.
Psychotherapy is usually a one-on-one therapy, but it can also happen in groups or with family members.
During and after mental health therapy
As your child progresses with their mental health therapy, your child might need to go back to the GP for a review. This is especially the case if your child has a formal Mental Health Treatment Plan. Along with other mental health professionals working with your child, the GP will watch and review your child’s progress to make sure the therapy is working.
If you’re concerned that your child’s mental health isn’t improving, you can raise your concerns with your child’s mental health professional or GP.
Depending on your child’s progress, the GP or your mental health professional might suggest alternative approaches. Or they might suggest that your child keeps going with the current treatment plan.
At the end of therapy, it can be good to review your child’s progress and celebrate their achievements.