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How to build connection and trust with a teen you work with?

Establishing a robust connection between mental health professionals and teens is crucial for fostering a positive therapeutic relationship. Adolescence is a critical period of emotional development, and a strong therapeutic alliance provides a safe space for teens to express their thoughts and feelings.

how to build connection with a teen

Connecting with patients is indeed one of the initial steps in establishing a productive and positive therapeutic relationship. As a mental health professional, you are likely aware of the distinctions between initiating a connection with an adult patient and a teen patient.

With adults, the emphasis typically revolves around allowing the individual to share significant information, emotions, and experiences, which the professional attentively receives and analyzes. Subsequently, strategies are developed in line with the adult's accumulated life experiences. In this scenario, most adults are generally receptive and willing to receive assistance, facilitating the exchange of information.

On the other hand, connecting with teens often demands a stronger foundation of trust. Until the teen trusts you, it can be difficult to gain access to important information or even understand raw emotions and feelings. Additionally, teens are in a developmental stage of constant evolution of their identity, rapidly changing emotions, and unique body/brain changes.

Building trust and connection with teens is often the first step to focus on to later be able to support and truly help. It is crucial to create an environment where teens feel heard and validated, acknowledging the distinct challenges they face.

Not only will a strong connection benefit the teen, but it can also enable professionals to better understand the unique challenges teens face, facilitating personalized interventions.


There are several key points for mental health professionals to go over early on to build trust: open communication, aiding in the identification and resolution of mental health issues early on, and honesty are some of them. As a mental health therapist specializing in providing counseling to teens, here are the five points I communicate with each patient to begin building trust and connection.

You are welcome to try this in your practice.

1. Have a transparent and honest approach by letting the teen know the rules and laws regarding confidentiality. Make it clear that the information shared during sessions is confidential, and specify when you are legally required to break confidentiality.

2. Talk about expectations and pressures linked to therapy. Assure the teen that you do not expect them to open up right away, and it is healthy for them to take their time. Discuss any pressures or expectations they may feel from their family regarding therapy.

3. Identify therapy goals with the teen. Establish 2-3 goals together during the first session to provide clarity on the objectives and utility of therapy. This involvement allows the teen to see the benefits and helps you, as a mental health professional, stay focused throughout sessions.

4. Be aware of your listening and communication strategies. Maintain strong listening, be non-judgemental, and avoid trying to convince them to change their opinion or narrative after them expressing their emotions. Repeat what you have understood from them and confirm whether or not you understood correctly to show you are paying attention and understanding their emotions.

5. Pick one or two topics currently bothering the teen and work on a clear plan to find solutions for them to try at home or school. This allows teens to see the benefits of opening up to a therapist and provides a conscious way to see the positive aspects of asking for help.

Lastly, emphasize the importance of bringing a relaxed and fun atmosphere into therapy. Teens may have preconceived ideas and fears linked to the medical world, so show them that you are just a "normal" individual with a sense of humor and personality. Bring tools such as painting, building, or going for walks to utilize during sessions, in order to help the teen focus on a less intimidating aspect while talking. I myself work with amy therapy dog and a bunny during sessions, allowing teens to pet and focus on comforting animals while opening up.

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