It takes a special kind of person to work with teenagers and their emerging personalities. So many factors influence kids and their psychological makeup that you must have a significant grasp on how to get them to open up so you can help. You need to be patient with teens as they grapple with their feelings and be able to build trust to get to the bottom of their difficulties.
You’ll need to pursue a doctoral degree in psychology to work as a psychologist in a clinical setting, and then you’ll have to pass a licensing exam required by your state to practice independently or to treat and counsel teens in a clinic, school or hospital. Look for a degree specializing in clinical adolescent psychology that will give you the skills and practical experience to help teenage clients.
Before you can begin treating adolescents you have got to get to know them, their struggles and their backgrounds. You might issue a battery of psychological and cognitive tests to determine the level of their emotional and intellectual maturity. You assess the family environment so that you can bring in family members when necessary or recommend removal of the teen if she lives in a dangerous situation. Assessments may also include sending teens to medical professionals to get blood tests for drug screening and to rule out other physically-related illnesses.
Once you’ve assessed the situation and diagnosed the teens’ problems, you can put together a treatment plan. Adolescents who need medication are referred to a psychiatrist although you may be the one who provides the ongoing counseling. Depression, anxiety and eating disorders often require medical intervention before talk therapy is effective. The treatment may include inpatient stays or referral to a juvenile facility. If the teen is cooperative, you could arrange for weekly or bi-weekly group or personal therapy sessions.
Very often, you’ll treat young adults as part of a team that includes medical doctors, psychiatrists, social workers and educators. You’ll keep careful records of your assessments and recommendations. After each counseling session, you report your findings to the team or request other interventions. Each step must be carefully recorded. Attention to detail and clear written communication skills are vital for adolescent psychologists. In your reports, you’ll need to clearly communicate your findings and recommendations to the treatment team and sometimes create reports for parents in laymen’s terms.
You may decide to specialize in one field of treatment and gear your schoolwork and training toward that specialization or take additional courses to increase your knowledge in a specific field. Common problems that teens deal with and that psychologists may specialize in include substance abuse, violent behavior, learning disabilities, eating disorders and teen pregnancy. You may develop programs for schools to aid in preventing many of the common problems teens encounter. Family counseling, inpatient hospital rotations and specific clinic service are other specializations that serve the teen population.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."