How to Know When Your Teen Needs Clinical Intervention

Father having a serious conversation while standing over his teenage son

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The term clinical refers to help provided to teens by mental health professionals. The term intervention refers to therapy techniques and therapeutic programs specializing in providing help to a troubled teen. 

When the two words are put together, clinical intervention describes numerous professional methods designed to help a teen who is having problems they can’t or aren’t handling successfully on their own. When this happens, adults have to intervene to provide the much-needed help, which comes in a variety of different forms. 

Common Reasons Why Teens May Need Clinical Intervention

Teens who are suffering often do not get better on their own and the sooner they get help, the better chance they have to heal successfully. The best clinical intervention for a teen at any particular time depends on the specific problems they are experiencing, how long they have existed and how severe they are.

Common reasons teenagers might need clinical intervention include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Cutting
  • Alcohol and/or drug use
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Not eating or binge-eating
  • Acting out
  • Violent behavior
  • Not sleeping enough or having trouble getting out of bed
  • Loss of interest in normal activities, particularly activities that normally bring enjoyment

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health issues, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.


There is a wide range of clinical interventions to help teens, depending on the severity of the problem, including:

Types of Psychotherapy for Teens

There are several available types of therapy for your teen. Here are the most common:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on helping teens to change their negative or harmful thinking patterns to positive ones. CBT is especially good for teens with depression and anxiety.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which helps teens take responsibility for their own behavior and problems. DBT is particularly helpful for teens with borderline personality disorder or who engage in suicidal thoughts or self-harming behavior.
  • Family therapy, which helps the entire family learn how to support the teen and stop enabling her problematic behaviors.
  • Group therapy, which can help your teen learn to cope in a more social setting.
  • Interpersonal therapy, which focuses on how life events affect your teen's emotions and then works to solve problems in relationships.
  • Psychoanalytic psychotherapy, which involves figuring out the internal struggles your teen has that are causing the issues and what is motivating his behavior and thoughts.

Potential Focuses

Clinical intervention can have several different focuses, including:

  • Solving a specific problem
  • Improving your teen's potential to deal with the behaviors, thoughts and/or feelings that are causing him difficulty
  • Preventing a specific problem
  • Helping your teen find mental balance, peace, and happiness in her life to cope with her circumstances

Questions to Ask to Determine a Need for Clinical Intervention

If you think your teen is having issues that could need outside help, here are some questions to ask yourself to help determine whether or not they may need clinical intervention:

  • When did the problem start and how long has it been going on?
  • Did anything trigger the problem, like the loss of a loved one, divorce, or a move?
  • How much is the problem affecting your teen's life? Are they just sad or are they struggling to get out of bed in the morning and losing all enjoyment for activities they used to love?
  • Is there evidence of extreme anxiety, depression, lack of energy, changes in behavior, and/or eating or sleeping difficulties that have been going on for more than two weeks?
  • Is your teen using drugs or abusing alcohol and/or engaging in risky behaviors?

Why Early Intervention Is Key

If you think your teen may need clinical intervention, be sure to seek it earlier rather than later. The sooner you deal with your teen's difficulties, the sooner they will be on a road to healing.

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  • Psychotherapies for Children and Adolescents. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (2013).