How Do I Get My Teen To Go To Therapy?

Posted on November 10th, 2016


What is the common response heard when a teen is asked if they want to try therapy, or “talk with someone?” It is often something like “I don’t need help” or “I’m not crazy.” Many times there is immediate resistance or refusal to consider the benefits. As we all know, adolescents are at a stage in their life where they still need guidance and structure, yet desperately want the independence they feel they deserve. They want to make decisions on their own, and feel they do not need the support of their parents. Because of these factors, it can be difficult to encourage and engage our teens in understanding the benefits of therapy. Trying to convince them to attend that initial intake session can seem like the most difficult task. This is due in part to their developmental stage, but also because seeking therapeutic support can still create stigma. The most effective way to engage a teen in therapy is to meet them where they are – take a step back and approach them from their perspective.

When trying to engage teens in almost anything, adults often use an angle or perspective that appeals to the adult (e.g. “You need to attend school because it’s the law, and we will end up in court if you don’t.”). Identify what’s important to your teen, and use that as a way to connect your teen to the value of therapy (e.g. “I know you want to participate in basketball, and you have to attend school consistently to be eligible.”). Because therapy will be most effective if the teen chooses to participate, identifying what is meaningful to your teen will increase the chances of that engagement. Here are some benefits of therapy that you may want to talk with your teen about:

  1. You will have someone there for you – without their own agenda. Teens often attach a negative label to engaging in therapy- they don’t want others to think they are “crazy.” You can let them know that attending therapy is simply having a non-judgmental person who is outside their family and friend group to listen and provide insight. Friends, siblings, family members, and neighbors all have some emotional investment in your teen’s life based on their relationship. Because a therapist has no personal connection, they able to provide unbiased, objective support.
  1. You will have a space that is yours, and no one else’s. Let them know that everyone deserves a space that is focused solely on them. Tell your teen that when he/she is in therapy, it’s all about your teen – there is no expectation of reciprocation. When your teen sits with a friend or family member, he/she may feel obligated to ask about that person’s day, or hear how that person is doing. In therapy, the focus is only on the teen. This is particularly helpful given that the developmental stage teens are in is very egocentric, so they are frequently focused on themselves.
  1. You will have an opportunity for your parents to understand you better. Let your teen know that any change made by one person in a family allows changes to made by others in the family as well. If your teen feels misunderstood, or doesn’t know how to communicate with you in a way that can be heard, therapy can provide guidance to improve that dynamic. This can also take away the idea that your teen is the problem – everyone can benefit from making positive changes.

There are so many truths (and misconceptions) to what adolescents know and hear about therapy. If we want to get them in the door, we have to acknowledge their feelings about it and what’s important to them. If they are brought into treatment based on adult needs or concerns, they will see right through it and often resist before reaching the door. If we empower them to be the one to make the decision to come to therapy, and illuminate the benefits from their perspective, the door to therapy opens a little wider.

If after attempting all the suggestions above, your teen still does not buy into therapy, consider taking it one step at a time. Empower them from the start by letting them know that you are only committing to the initial session. If after that session, they continue to see no value, then they don’t have to return. They often do make a connection that first session, so if you can just get them in the door that might be enough. Additionally, you can choose to participate in Parent Support sessions, during which you can learn skills to implement at home to support the teen (and possibly help get the teen into therapy themselves). Finally, if they are still unwilling, and parent support is not enough, let your teen know the option is always there, and revisit it with them in a month or so. Sometimes, they are simply not ready to engage in making a change, and need time to get there.

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Would you like additional guidance in this area? Teen Therapy Center provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.