How to Talk to your Child About Teen Therapy

You have been watching your teen for some time now, and you’ve realized that his or her behaviors or feelings are more than just the simple ups and down of teenage angst and elation. Or maybe it hits you out of the blue that something is not quite right about your teen’s mental state. Perhaps your family is going through a difficult time and you just think that your child would get through it more easily if he or she had someone to talk to who is not involved with the situation. Whatever your reasons for wanting to have your child start going to teen therapy, it can be difficult to approach them with the idea. Here are some tips on talking your teenager about the benefits of going to see a therapist.

Start With Your Family Doctor

Most teens have grown up going to the doctor when they are sick or when they need a routine checkup, so they don’t usually have a problem with this. Convincing your teen that they should see the doctor when they’re not physically ill or due for their yearly exam might be a different story, however. Tell your child that if they’re not feeling well mentally, the condition can be treated and that the doctor can run tests to see if a physical issue is to blame. In some cases, this first step will uncover a vitamin deficiency, a thyroid problem, a hormonal issue, or some other physical condition that is causing emotional or mental symptoms.

Stress Your Teen’s Overall Happiness

While there is less of a stigma about mental health care than there used to be a in decades past, it can still seem like an overwhelming step for your teenager. Many teens prefer not to talk about their feelings to adults, and a therapist could be seen as “just another adult.” Also, your teen might be concerned about his or her friends finding out that they’re seeing a “shrink.”

Rather than focus on the counseling itself, focus more on your teen’s happiness. If he or she is experiencing anxiety or depression symptoms, wouldn’t they feel so much happier if they could get past those feelings? Have your child imagine a day when they weren’t plagued by intrusive thoughts, sadness, insomnia, or whatever the main problem is. Many teens having mental health issues wish that they felt better, so looking ahead to the future filled with feeling “normal” can offer hope.

Offer a Short-Term Commitment

Your child might balk at the idea of months and months in teen therapy. Even if it seems as though treatment will take a long time, offer your teen the opportunity to just make a short-term commitment. Maybe one month of weekly sessions can be non-negotiable, then let your child know that you can discuss what happens next. Many times, even a handful of sessions will bring about some improvement, and your teen will likely be invested in his or her progress by that point.

Having a hard time even getting your teen in the door for the first appointment, never mind a month’s worth? If using your parental authority isn’t working, the promise of a special privilege might be warranted. While most parents want to avoid bribery when possible, just getting your child to one or more teen therapy sessions can positively impact his or her mental health for the long-term, so it might be worth it.

Give Assurances

Let your teen know that the mental health professional will keep the discussions confidential. The therapist will share issues with you, the parent, only on a need-to-know basis. The counselor will go over what the exceptions to confidentiality are. Normally, you or the appropriate authorities will only be notified if there is a concern that the teen is a danger to him/herself or others, if he or she is being abused, or if he or she is abusing someone else.

Also, stress the fact that the therapist’s office is a no-judgment zone. Your teen won’t be judged or disparaged for having strong feelings or for expressing them in a safe way. Let your child know that they don’t have to tell their friends about the teen therapy if they don’t want to, and that no one outside of them, you, and the therapist has to know about it if they are embarrassed. At the same time, let them know that there is nothing wrong or shameful about seeking help and that they can certainly talk to their friends about it if they so choose.

Consider Other Types of Counseling

If your teen absolutely refuses to go see a therapist, there’s nothing you can do to force the issue. You could physically force your child to go to the sessions, but you will not be able to force him or her to talk, and that is the whole point of teen therapy.

Instead, consider getting counseling on your own. This will accomplish a few things. First, it sets a great example for your child, whether he or she admits it or not. Secondly, it will give you some tools for handling challenging attitudes and behaviors on the part of your teenager. Finally, the counselor might have some good ideas that will help you persuade your child to try teen therapy.

You can also approach the school counselor or social worker at your teen’s middle or high school. These professionals are trained to work with teens, and they might have suggestions for you or the ability to counsel your child while he or she is at school. Some teens will not balk at talking to a well-liked guidance counselor that they already know from school. If your teen does not have a good relationship with his or her assigned counselor, ask the director of that department if there is another counselor who can try to get through.

Approaching your child about the need for teen therapy can be uncomfortable and anxiety-producing, but by keeping an open mind and a positive attitude, you might be surprised at your teen’s willingness to go. If not, you can always try a few different approaches to persuade him or her to at least give it a try on a short-term basis or become more accepting of the idea.

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