Oh course, the best case scenario when considering therapy for your tween/teen is when they approach you and ask you to go to therapy. This means that they are already at the stage where they know that there is something that they want to change about themselves and they believe that therapy is a tool to help them make that change.
But many tweens/teens don’t choose to go to therapy on their own – the reality is that their parents are the ones to make that decision, and telling a resistant tween/teen that they are going to therapy can be an intimidating task.
Below is a table with some pretty common reasons why parents may decide to bring their tweens/teens to therapy, and an explanation as to how therapy can help.
|Issue||How Therapy Can Address The Issue|
|Tween/Teen has difficulty maintaining passing grades in school.||Therapy can teach the tween/teen organization skills, concentration skills, test anxiety coping methods, etc.|
|Tween/Teen doesn’t seem like themselves lately (e.g.they seem sad or anxious or they don’t enjoy life like they used to).||Therapy can teach the child coping skills to manage sadness and anxiety. Therapy can also provide an opportunity for the tween/teen to talk about things that they can’t talk about with their parents, allowing them to work through and process difficult situations.|
|Tween/Teen’s behavior (such as anger) is starting to get out of control and episodes are happening too frequently.||Therapy can teach the tween/teen anger management skills or other skills to help them handle their intense emotions in a more effective way.|
|There has been a significant change in the family system (e.g. divorce, death of a loved one, parent their job, relocation, etc.).||Therapy can help the tween/teen process their uncomfortable emotions, learn ways to cope with these emotions, and/or problem-solve ways for the tween/teen to handle the new family situation in a more effective way.|
|Parents are concerned that the tween/teen suffers from low self-esteem that their low self-esteem is causing them to do things that are not healthy in order to be liked by their peers (e.g. engage in drinking/drugs, sexual activity, giving peers money, etc.).||Therapy can help the tween/teen discover their positive qualities and strengths and then use these strengths to attract quality friendshsips.|
So if you are a parent who has already made the decision that your tween/teen could benefit from therapy, how do you tell them? Below are a few tips to keep in mind when having this discussion with your tween/teen.
Keep the conversation positive, upbeat, and hopeful. If you seem positive about it, then your child will too. Speak to your child about going to therapy like you would the dentist or any other errand – it’s something that you are going to do together, but it’s not a big deal.
Therapy is not meant to be a punishment. Maybe your tween/teen has been acting out at home. It’s natural that they might jump to the conclusion that they are being sent to therapy as punishment, or to be “fixed.” If this is the case, explain to your tween/teen that you know that lots of teens act out when they’re feeling bad on the inside and going to therapy is meant to help them feel better, not serve as a way to punish them.
Try to focus on how therapy is in the tween/teen’s best interest. Many tweens/teens feel like they are the “sacrificial lamb” going to therapy, when in their minds, they aren’t the problem – someone else in the family is the bigger problem. Acknowledging to your child that the family is going through a tough time right now can go a long way, but let your tween/teen know that this therapy appointment is meant to help the tween/teen handle the difficult situation.
Also, connecting the dots between a goal that the tween/teen has and therapy is also helpful. For example, if your teen has a history of being untrustworthy and the teen wants their driver’s license soon, tell your teen that participating in therapy will go a long way in earning your trust, which will make you feel more comfortable with allowing them to get their license when they turn 16.
Remind them that therapy isn’t forever – it’s mostly short-term. Therapy doesn’t last forever. Most tween/teens are in therapy between 12-20 sessions before they meet their treatment goals. Encourage them that this is a little “time out” in their lives to improve some things in their lives that aren’t working or to learn some coping skills that will help them feel better. Even though therapy is short-term, the positive effects will last their entire life.
Offer your tween/teen a “trial period.” I’ve found that a lot of kids like therapy after a couple of sessions. This is because they find out that the therapist is nicer than they thought, or that the therapist isn’t trying to push the parent’s agenda, or that they actually begin to feel better after talking about their “stuff.” Striking a deal with the tween/teen to attend attend a certain number of session and then it’s up to the tween/teen to decide to go back or ot. I’ve found that about 6 – 8 sessions is enough time for the tween/teen to see the benefit of going to therapy.
Remind them that going to therapy doesn’t mean that they are “broken”, “weird”, “mental”, “a bad kid”, or “crazy,” but that all kinds of people go to therapy to feel better. Many kids feel like the only reason people go to therapy is because they are “crazy,” so remind your tween/teen that there are many reasons why people seek out therapy. Many kids who go to tutoring aren’t dumb; they go to tutoring because they need help in one specific subject. Tutoring supports kids to be the best student they can be. In the same vein, therapy helps tweens/teens live the best life possible.
Finally, if your tween/teen is worried that therapy is being used as a way to expose all their secrets to their parents, educate your tween/teen about confidentiality in therapy. Yes, there are certain things that all therapists are mandated by law to report to officials. If the tween/teen discloses in therapy that they were abused (sexually, physically, or through neglect) by a family member or stranger, then the therapist MUST contact CPS. However, most therapists honor the confidentiality of the therapy room. This is something that should be disclosed during the initial session.
My personal policy when it comes to communicating what is said in the therapy room to parents is pretty much in the tween/teen’s favor, meaning that I don’t repeat what is said by the tween/teen to the parent. My only exception is when I believe that the tween/teen is participating in something dangerous (self-harm, drug use, unsafe sex, etc.) and the tween/teen will not commit to using a plan to stop those activities. Safety of the tween/teen is ALWAYS the most important factor, but generally, most topics discussed in therapy are kept confidential between the therapist and tween/teen.
Take Home Message
Sometimes there comes a time when parents believe that taking their tween/teen to therapy is necessary, but getting the tween/teen on board can be difficult. The techniques discussed above are some of the more successful techniques for encouraging a disinterested tween/teen to participate in therapy.
And if your tween/teen is resistant about going to therapy, don’t be surprised if they are initially defiant in therapy as well – but most therapists have the skills necessary to work with a resistant tween/teen and you shouldn’t be surprised if your child starts to become really engaged in therapy very soon.
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The resources presented on the Modern Parenting Solutions website are not intended to replace therapy – they are for reference and educational purposes only. As every family is individual and unique in their strengths and weaknesses, the resources and advice supplied on this website are general in nature and should never replace any medical or psychological services that you may be currently engaged in. Please contact a mental health professional if you have any questions.
If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
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