Parents often ask me how they can convince their teenager or emerging adult to go to therapy. Before broaching the idea with your child, first reflect on if it’s necessary to convince them to attend therapy. If the answer is yes, here are seven tips that may help you get your child’s foot in the door.
1. Model How Helpful Therapy Is
Your willingness to attend therapy normalizes it. Instead of just talking the talk, you’re walking the walk. That speaks volumes when it comes to our teens and emerging adults. By modeling your own use of therapy and its usefulness in self-care, when it comes time to suggest therapy to your child, they won’t feel like you’re making them do something you don’t believe in yourself. It also foster a family value of being courageous enough to ask for professional help when needed. That will go a long way in your teen or emerging adult’s life!
2. Suggest Family Therapy
Many times, when a parent suggests that their child goes to therapy, the teen hears, “You’re the problem.” Even if you’re meaning to communicate, “I’m concerned about your well-being and want to get you the support you need.” By going into family therapy instead of sending your child to individual therapy, it takes the pressure off of your teen or emerging adult. It also clearly communicates that you’re also willing to do the hard work to help the situation. Your willingness to go through the therapeutic process with your child is a powerful, positive message.
3. Take Advantage of Free Consultation Calls
Many psychologists offer a brief, free consultation call to determine if their services are the right fit for your needs. As the parent, you’re often the one using the free call. Consider asking the therapist for a second consultation call with your teen or emerging adult. Not all psychologists will do this, but some may agree to do that. Others may allow you to schedule a shortened phone session (so you don’t have to commit to paying for a full session). This will give your child an opportunity to get a feel for the therapist and see if they are comfortable trying therapy out.
4. Respect Therapeutic Boundaries
Some teens and emerging adults resist therapy because they feel like the psychologist will just be an extension of you, the parent. Address that concern head on and explain that you’ll respect their privacy and the boundaries that the therapist sets. Let your child know that you’ll trust the counselor to do their job and won’t interfere in treatment. Often, if teens get even a whiff of parent interference, they’ll disengage from therapy and possibly even refuse to go.
5. Address Misperceptions about Therapy
If it’s your child’s first time going to therapy, they likely have all kinds of mis-perceptions about what therapy is. They might be using poor examples from television shows and movies to anticipate what it’s like. Buying into those therapy myths can be a huge obstacle to getting your child in therapy. Address those false impressions if you feel knowledgeable enough to do so. Alternatively, let the psychologist handle those questions and concerns during the free phone consultation or intake session.
6. Be Clear about When Therapy is Necessary
Sometimes therapy isn’t immediately necessary, but you can see where things are headed. In that case, you can bring up the possibility of therapy ahead of time. If your teen or emerging adult balks at the prospect, make it very clear just when therapy will enter the picture.
For example, say your child is becoming increasingly anxious and stressed that they’re having meltdowns. The conversation is about, “I see that you’ve been really stressed out lately, and I’m getting worried about your well-being. If it gets to the point that you have more than one meltdown a week, we’ll need to get some professional help.” It’s important to make it very clear and unambiguous when therapy will happen. So think about measurable and quantifiable markers. And then stick to it!
7. Let the Therapist Handle It
Sometimes it’s just best to let the professional handle it. If you can get your child to the intake, the psychologist may be able to work their therapeutic magic and convince your child to keep giving therapy a try. Some psychologists and therapists are especially skilled in helping clients become more open to counseling. It might take a “let’s take this week by week” attitude for the first month or so before your teen or emerging adult really commits to therapy.
And if your child decides therapy is not for them? Unless there are safety concerns, I’d recommend against strong-arming your teen or emerging adult into therapy against their will. Coercion is not the foundation for a healthy therapeutic relationship with a therapist. And forcing the issue may turn your child off to therapy, leaving them less likely to reach out for help if they do recognize they need it later on.
Have a teen or emerging adult who needs therapy? Visit our contact page to send our adolescent specialist, Dr. Jenifer Goldman, a message or schedule a free 20 minute consultation to see how she can help.