Treatment for Children and Adolescents

While treatment will be personalized to the needs of the child or teen and the concern they are facing, there are many effective strategies for helping young people improve their mental health.

The most common approaches are psychotherapy, medication, or both. After an assessment, your provider can help determine what’s best for your child.


Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” involves working with a trained professional to gain new skills, insight, and support to overcome mental health conditions. As described below, there are different types of psychotherapy available, including (1) general psychotherapy or counseling and (2) specific evidence-based psychotherapies (EBPs) that involve learning new skills for changing thoughts, behaviors, and/or patterns of social interaction that contribute to mental health conditions. This is not a complete list of psychotherapeutic approaches, but includes some of the most common and effective psychological treatments. With young children, parent(s) will typically be involved, and psychotherapy can include talking, play-based interactions, or other activities. With adolescents, there is greater focus on working directly with the teen, though parents may be involved to an extent.

General Psychotherapy

General Psychotherapy involves working with a trained professional in a supportive relationship. The focus of treatment is usually non-specific and addresses general problems or challenges and lifestyle goals.

Behavior Therapy

Behavior Therapy teaches new or replacement thoughts and behaviors, increases rewards for desirable behaviors, and helps reduce or get rid of unwanted thoughts and behaviors. It can be used for a variety of concerns, including disruptive behavior, anxiety disorders, adherence to medical treatments, and more. One type is parent training in behavior management where the therapist works with parents to develop skills to manage the child’s behavior.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) addresses a variety of presenting concerns, ranging from anxiety and depression to trauma and eating disorders. It focuses on the link between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT helps individuals learn new ways thinking and reacting to situations so that they have more balanced and helpful thoughts about themselves, others, and the future. It also involves teaching new skills for getting more pleasure and meaning out of life.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) helps individuals get “unstuck” from and detach from their thoughts. It also focuses on taking positive actions and helping people make choices that align with their values. It uses strategies such as mindfulness and goal setting to help people recognize and achieve what truly matters to them in life.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure Therapy is a common element in Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that focuses on confronting the fears underlying anxiety to help people engage in activities they have been avoiding. Exposure therapy is sometimes used along with relaxation exercises.


Medication isn’t typically the first line of treatment for most children and adolescents, but for some young people, medication can be very beneficial, usually in combination with psychotherapy. Medications prescribed to children and teens include stimulant and non-stimulant medications for treatment of ADHD and antidepressants for treatment of anxiety and depression. In certain select instances medications are prescribed to stabilize mood or reduce extreme agitation.

Effective child therapy

This site provides parents with easy-to-understand information about mental health symptoms, disorders and gold-standard treatments for children and adolescents experiencing a variety of mental health concerns.

Questions to ask your child’s provider

Questions to ask your child’s provider

A good mental health provider will guide you through the process with compassion, but there are questions you can ask to ensure you’ve found a good fit.

A good mental health provider will guide you through the process with compassion, but there are questions you can ask to ensure you’ve found a good fit.