Everyone needs a good therapist, that’s my personal opinion anyways. We are comfortable taking our cars for occasional tune-ups, and we regularly scan and update our various devices to ensure that they’re in good working order — so why not do the same for our mental health?
That’s why I encourage my teens to see a therapist. I want them to understand that going for counseling is healthy, positive, and beneficial. I don’t want them having a completely outdated mindset that only crazy people need therapy.
Therapy doesn’t need to be reserved for a life-altering event or serious mental health problems. Instead, it should be part of a healthy routine for everyone who wants to maintain healthy relationships with themselves and others, while progressing towards who they want to become. Certainly, everyone stands to gain from getting a fresh perspective on their issues, reflecting on their lives and improving their coping skills.
Teens Need Therapy
Teenagers nowadays are especially vulnerable to different kinds of mental health issues. They are under constant pressure from their parents, their peers, teachers, coaches, and others. They find themselves juggling different tasks both at home and at school while having to cope with rapid body changes and identity issues.
They face daily struggles with stress, bullying, shame, academics, dating drama, and feeling overwhelmed about the future. It is a lot for any adult to deal with, making it potentially even more overwhelming for an adolescent to deal with who has much less life experience.
I encourage my teens to see a therapist on a regular basis so that they can acquire the coping skills to effectively manage these and other stress triggers. I don’t want to put it off until they start showing signs of distress because it might be too late then.
What can start out as a mood disorder or teen angst can quickly devolve to teen depression and what we might dismiss as excessive worry or just the awkwardness that comes with the teenage years could quickly spiral to an anxiety disorder. So, since I care about my children’s mental health just as much as their physical wellbeing, I take steps to ensure they view going for counseling as a normal part of life.
How I Encourage My Teens to Attend Therapy
When I first brought up going to see a therapist, my teens had reservations. They thought it was something only weirdos and crazy people did, and they didn’t want to seem weird to their friends. They also didn’t want to tell a stranger about their personal problems. Furthermore, they feared that the therapist would later tell us what they’d discussed during their sessions.
It took a lot of effort to get them to accept the idea. Here’s how I did it:
1. I introduced my teens to a family counselor before problems popped up.
Since it can be intimidating to open up to a complete stranger, I scheduled a get-to-know-you session with a family counselor. This way, my kids could get a feel of the therapist to see if they’re a good fit, ask a few questions and get an idea of how therapy works. To my surprise, they enjoyed their sessions and asked for more without any prompting from me.
2. I took the lead by attending counseling myself.
Nothing speaks louder to our kids than our own actions. That’s why I introduced a culture of openness and vulnerability in our family where sharing is encouraged, and support offered. My teens saw me going for therapy on several occasions, and this normalized the process for them. They didn’t see it as all that strange if their dad was open and comfortable with it.
3. I gave my teens the gift of confidentiality.
I admit that at first, I struggled with the fact that my teens were confiding in a stranger. I was their father after all and felt that they should come to me. It was also tempting to ask their therapist what they discussed and shared. However, confidentiality is key for successful counseling, and I knew my kids would resist therapy and become resentful if what they’d shared in confidence was revealed. So I decided to be supportive and happy that they were getting the help they needed to be mentally healthy.
4. We found a teen-focused therapist.
Choosing the right therapist for your child can be challenging. In the end, we found a great teen-focused therapist thanks to a referral from a family friend. I feel that it’s important for my teens to have a therapist who takes an interest in their lives and uses a teen-centric approach. This way, teens can feel understood which in turn allows them to relax enough to confide and accept guidance.
One thing I would advise parents on is to use compulsion only as a last resort. Teens can put up a good resistance to going for therapy and forcing them will only result in a negative outcome where the teen sits in silence, and you just waste your money.
On the other hand, while voluntary attendance is encouraged and preferable, do push the issue if you notice alarming changes in your teen’s behavior. It’s better to err on the side of caution, especially if it means saving your teen’s life.
Bergland, C. (2013). Why Is the Teen Brain So Vulnerable? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-athletes-way/201312/why-is-the-teen-brain-so-vulnerable
Hartman, J. (n.d.) Does My Teen Need Therapy? 7 Signs From a Psychotherapist. Retrieved from https://www.mother.ly/parenting/does-my-teen-need-therapy-7-signs-from-a-psychotherapist
The Reality Of Teen Depression [infographic]. (n.d.). Liahona Treatment Center. Retrieved from https://www.liahonaacademy.com/the-reality-of-teen-depression-infographic.html