Connect to Teens with `Outside the Box’ Tools

Connecting with your clients on their level is crucial to developing and maintaining a therapeutic bond. The majority of my practice population is adolescents and young adults. Therefore, for me to stay relevant with that population I have to stay current with all types of media — social, Internet, music, television, movies, fiction and magazines.

This approach is especially true for working with the teens. The majority of teenagers are hesitant to open up to an adult. A current movie or book that is popular might help them open up about a problem they might be experiencing.

Adolescents live in the world of social media. It’s crucial for therapists to be familiar with popular social media apps. Teenagers have long abandoned Facebook and have embraced newer social media platforms like Snapchat, Tumblr, Instagram and Vine.

Connect on Their Level

The 20-plus set still seem to use Facebook. And new apps are being developed constantly and targeted towards all generations, seniors, teens, Tweens, singles, health and fitness buffs, you name it and they have an app for it.

Being attuned to what social media platform your client is using is vital for being able to connect with them on their level.

For example, in my work with eating disorder clients, I always ask them who they are following on social media.

Many times, the blogs they are following are sending negative body image, food or weight messages. However, this creates an ideal platform to discuss how those messages might be affecting how they feel about themselves.

Additionally, it’s important to find out how frequently they are checking their social media. Recent studies have demonstrated how social media feedback (number followers or likes a person receives on their posts) negatively affects self esteem.

Anecdotally, I have seen this in my practice frequently. As a matter of fact, I call Facebook the “brag book” as most people only post about the latest fabulous party they have attended or an amazing vacation they taken.

Facebook can operate as your very own public relations firm.

Everything they are interested in resides in the palm of their hand — their mobile phone.

The phone is an amazing resource, readily available, portable and frequently not lost or forgotten. One of the tools I use with my teen clients is music therapy.

Inspirational Playlists

I asked them to create an inspirational playlist to help them get through a difficult situation. For example, if a teenager is struggling with a Bulimia and is having difficulty controlling the urge to purge, I ask her to create a meaningful playlist to help her cope with her intense feelings.

Movies and television shows portray many adolescent issues, ranging from gender identity issues to depression and suicide.

The majority of teenagers are hesitant to open up to an adult. A current popular movie or book could help them open up about a problem they are experiencing. An example that comes to mind is “Perks of a Wallflower,” a popular book and then movie.

The theme of the movie deals with depression, suicide and sexual abuse–all difficult topics to talk about.

The movie technique I call, “Direct your own life” is a method I use as a form of narrative therapy. If a client is describing an upsetting situation that has recently occurred in his/her life, I ask them to – rewrite, re-script or re-direct the the scene with an ending that they would have preferred.

This technique can create insight and help them make better choices in the future. It also empowers  clients to realize that they do have control over how their words and behaviors affect others.

Anger is an ideal feeling to use the movie technique with because many people, especially females, find it difficult to adequately describe their anger. I ask them to describe the scene as a silent movie, no words. What will the viewer be able to gather from watching the scene without words?

These are just a few of the outside-the-box therapeutic tools I find useful to connecting with teens. It can be a creative and fun way to enhance your practice and increase positive treatment outcomes.

Girl with headphones photo available from Shutterstock

Connect to Teens with `Outside the Box’ Tools

Laura Farrell West LCSW

Laura Farrell West is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker practicing for more than 10 years in the Tampa Bay area. Laura is also a freelance writer, blogger and speaker. Her articles have appeared on and she has lectured to universities and mental health professions about eating disorders. Laura’s focus is on working with teens, college students and young adults struggling with mood disorders, eating disorders and relationship issues.


APA Reference
Farrell West LCSW, L. (2015). Connect to Teens with `Outside the Box’ Tools. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Oct 2015
Published on All rights reserved.