The warning signs are there. Your teenager has become distant, defiant, moody, grades are dropping, etc. You are concerned and would like to bring your teen to therapy however, are unsure how to broach the topic with them or are worried they will refuse. Here are some common pitfalls and strategies to avoid for getting your teen to attend therapy:
#1: Not Telling Your Teen They Are Going To Therapy:
A common mistake parents make when trying to get their teens to attend therapy, is not telling them they are going to therapy at all. Although this may be tempting in effort to avoid an argument, it also creates distrust, anger and resentment in your teen which has the potential to prevent success in therapy.
Be honest with your teen about why you think therapy would be a good idea. Be supportive in allowing them to ask questions, express their concerns, and offer reassurance. A great example of a conversation starter would be, “I am worried about you and I am unsure how to help. I would like us to get help together.” This takes the shame and blame out of your teenager’s behavior and assures them that this is a problem that you will both be working on together.
#2. It’s a Family Effort
Teenagers entering therapy for the first time can often feel like they are being punished or believe they are attending therapy because they are bad. Statements such as, “you need help” or “you need to see a therapist” can further leave your teen feeling unsupported and left to carry the brunt of the pain.
Let your teenager know that you will be attending therapy with them to collaborate and create solutions together. This does not mean you will need to attend every session, nor attend often. Your willingness to be present when needed will role model and show positive support for your teen, giving them the confidence (and less excuses!) to attend and participate.
#3. Giving Ultimatums
Ultimatums are tempting to deliver, especially when you have been experiencing a long period of frustration with your teen. However, it should be considered that although an ultimatum may get your teen through the therapy office door, this does not mean it will motivate them to participate or make any therapeutic progress.
It may be more helpful to suggest a trial period, such as, “Let’s agree to attend 4 sessions and then we will revisit whether this is helpful or not.” Offering an incentive can also be effective, such as making therapy part of a weekly responsibility for your teen in order to receive their allowance or use the car.
Beginning therapy can be a challenging and difficult decision for adults and teens alike. If your teenager continues to refuse attending therapy, it may be helpful to reach out and consult with a therapist for further strategies and ideas in helping your teen attend their first session.