What to Do When Teens Resist Treatment for Mental Illness

Not all teenagers are going to participate in treatment simply because its available to them. In fact, there’s an old joke in the mental health field: How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? The answer: Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.

It’s a funny joke; but it’s true. The only time treatment is effective is if the client is ready. This applies to individuals, regardless of age, race, gender, or socioeconomic status. There must be willingness and a readiness to change old patterns, old behaviors, and old choices.

Teens Resist Treatment

Despite this, when the addictions and/or the mental illness of teens have spun out of control and if their functioning at home, school, or work has been impaired, then it’s time to seek teen mental health treatment. Also, if you see a change in your teenager’s emotions, behavior, sleeping or eating habits, or a combination of these, and especially if that change is sudden, then taking your child to a therapist is called for.

When an adolescent resists this treatment, the following are tips to use when your child refuses this kind of care:

Avoid accusations or expressing your authority when discussing treatment. Instead, lovingly and openly express your concern. Communicate that by participating in therapy. Or whatever treatment method you are considering. There is a likelihood for change, leading to a happier and healthier experience for your child.

Find a therapist that specializes in adolescence.

One of the key ways that a therapist facilitates change in their clients is through the therapeutic relationship. A therapist who specializes in teens will know how to create a positive relationship with your child. This will no only facilitate your teen’s willingness to participate in therapy and/or other forms of treatment, but that therapist can serve as a model. As your teenager searches for a sense of identity, it will be beneficial to have adults around that reflect healthy personal traits and behavior.

Show respect for your teen.

Despite the fact that your child is going to push your limits and perhaps stimulate anger, when it comes to matters of mental health, treating your child with respect and maturity might facilitate his or her willingness to participate. Communicating your concerns with patience and appreciation for what your child is going through might also ease his or her choice.

Become an active participant.

Let your child know that you will be actively involved. This can ease the feeling of your child having to go through this alone. The thought of treatment itself might provoke anxiety. Communicate that you will accompany your child each step of the way.

Put a limitation on treatment.

If your child continues to refuse, see if he or she is willing to participate in at least 3 weeks of therapy or one week of rehabilitative services. By highlighting the short-term nature of treatment, your child might be more willing to agree. If your teen can see the end to the experience, it might be easier to accept.

It’s not uncommon for teens to resist treatment, but with your support he or she might accept it and participate in the change that he or she needs.

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