How to Know When Your Teen Needs Professional Help

These warning signs may indicate your teen needs help from a professional.

GSO Images / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

It can be hard to admit that your teen needs help. But there are certain problems that you may not be able to solve as a parent. Some issues require professional counseling and intervention.

Teens may need professional counseling for behavior problems, emotional problems, mental health issues, substance abuse problems, stress, relationship difficulties, and traumatic experiences. The longer you wait to seek help, the worse your teen's problems may become. It's important to seek help as soon as you can. Learn about the warning signs that indicate it's time to get help.

Is It Just Normal Teen Behavior?

It can be hard to tell if your teen is having serious problems or if her actions constitute normal teenage behavior. Start by looking at your teen's daily life and asking yourself these questions:

  • How is my teen doing at school?
  • Does she have friends?
  • Does she tell me what's going on in her life?

If you've noticed changes or you have some concerns, talk to a therapist or your teen's pediatrician. A trained professional can either give you peace of mind by saying your teen is fine, or they can provide guidance about how you can help your teen. It's always best to err on the side of caution if you're in doubt.

Signs That Professional Help Is Needed Immediately

There are warning signs of troubled teen behavior that you should be on the lookout for. These can be signs that your teen may be in immediate danger. Waiting to see if these problems go away is a bad idea because these problems are likely to get worse without professional help.

 If your teen is exhibiting these signs, seek professional help right away:

  • Signs of depression
  • Running away
  • Participating in illegal activities
  • Drug use
  • Failing school: If this is the only problem, tutoring is a start, but talk to the guidance office as well. If there are other problems and this is just a symptom, seek counseling for your teen.
  • Sexual acting out
  • Self-harm/cutting
  • Changes in friends or activities—especially if the friends are into drugs or other illicit activities.
  • Eating problems: Have you noticed your teen not eating, overeating, or has she shown signs of purging after a meal?
  • Inappropriate anger: Aiming angry feelings towards you or exhibiting violent behavior is cause for great concern.
  • Increasing defiance
  • Significant changes in mood or behavior

What to Do When You Think Your Teen Needs Counseling

If you decide to seek help for your teen, start by talking to your teen's doctor. A doctor can provide an assessment and help you decide if therapy or other resources could be helpful.

Perhaps you blame yourself for your teen's misbehavior. Or maybe you worry that you didn't recognize warning signs months or even years ago and that you should have gotten help sooner. It's normal to experience a wide range of emotions, ranging from regret to guilt when thinking about getting professional help. Don't let those emotions get in the way of getting your teen the professional counseling that can help get his life back on track.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. KidsHealth from Nemours. Taking your child to a therapist.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Mental Health and Teens: Watch for Danger Signs.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. 11 signs that your child may need a therapist.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.