How to Talk to a Teen About Therapy

How to Talk to a Teen About Therapy

The idea of starting therapy can be unsettling for teenagers, especially if they are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition like anxiety or depression. When a parent suggests that their teen needs to see a therapist it can trigger a range of reactions, from relief to shame or even defiance. Convincing teenagers to see a mental health professional can be challenging, as they must be willing to participate for treatment to be effective. Understanding how to talk to a teen about therapy can make the conversation much easier and help your child understand the benefits a mental health professional can provide.

We got tips from local therapists on how to talk to an adolescent about therapy. A common sentiment is that parents must approach the conversation from a place of compassion, understanding your child may see therapy as a punishment rather than what it is, a treatment.

“No one likes being told that they need to go to therapy or need help,” said Rachel Holloway, MS, LPC-MHSP, a therapist at Embrace U. “I think it is always important to come from a place of compassion.  Validation goes a long way.  Instead of coming from a stance of, ‘There is something wrong with you,’ it is helpful to recognize that ‘Things have been really difficult lately,’ and ‘I see you trying your best, and you are still hurting.’  Therapy is not a punishment so framing it as an opportunity can motivate teenagers to give it a try.”

Adolescent Mental Health Therapy Programs

Embrace U offers two outpatient therapy programs for adolescents aged 10 to 18 – partial hospitalization (PHP) and intensive outpatient (IOP).

How to Tell Your Teen They Need Therapy

Imagine you’re a teenager suffering from symptoms of a mental health challenge. You already feel like something about you isn’t right. Then your parents explain that they are taking you to see a therapist. Some adolescents may react to that news with intense feelings of shame. Others may feel a sense of relief. The majority of children and teens starting therapy will likely land somewhere in the middle, feeling perhaps a bit anxious about meeting with a therapist and sharing intimate details of their life, but also realizing they need help. Teen therapy programs can help adolescents develop coping and communication skills to better manage symptoms of a mental health disorder.

“I tend to encourage families to be just radically honest with their child or teenager and say, ‘This is what I’m seeing, and I love you so much and this is why I think it could be wonderful for you to see a therapist,’” said Laura Deneen, LPC-MHSP, CEDS-S, NCC, therapist and founder of Anchored Counseling. “If the child is older, and if the family feels comfortable with it, I think parents sharing their own therapeutic experience is helpful. I’ve had some parents say, ‘Hey, I saw a therapist in my thirties when I was changing jobs and it was really helpful for me.’ There is something about sharing your experiences that reduces some of the fear.

“Ideally, it’s a collaborative effort but at the end of the day, they are the parent and while we don’t want to force a child to go into treatment, a parent gets to decide what is best for their child. So I think there’s still room for a parent to be a parent and to set a boundary and say, ‘Hey, you know what, we’re going to go to this therapy session. I’m here with you if you have feelings but we’re still going to do this.’”

Related Read: How to Talk to a Child About Suicide.

Tips for Talking to Adolescents about Therapy

Planning and preparation can help you have a productive conversation about therapy with your child. You can likely anticipate how they’ll react and what objections they may have. It helps to understand why they might be resistant to therapy. It’s common for adolescents to feel like they don’t need help and that by suggesting therapy you’re suggesting they have a personality flaw. They might be embarrassed, or possibly feel like therapy just won’t work.

“Therapy should never ever be a punishment for negative actions,” said Rebecca Stewart, LCSW, a therapist at Embrace U. “It needs to always be framed as a situation of, ‘We need help, and these people can help us.’ Validation of a teen’s concerns and reflective listening can help a teen feel heard and understood. This may be needed before holding the boundary of attending therapy because it allows the teen to see that listening needs to go both ways and models empathy skills while holding boundaries.”

Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare to talk with your child about starting a teen therapy program:

Stay Calm
It’s essential to approach a conversation about therapy with a sense of calmness and composure. Teens may already feel anxious or overwhelmed, so maintaining a calm demeanor can help create a safe environment for discussion. Take deep breaths and try to remain centered, even if the topic feels challenging or emotional. Remember that your calmness can be reassuring to your child and may help them feel more comfortable opening up about their feelings.

Stay Compassionate
Show empathy and understanding towards your teen’s feelings and concerns. Let them know that you care about their well-being and want to support them through whatever they’re going through. Avoid judgment or criticism. Instead, validate their emotions and experiences, even if you don’t fully understand them. Use phrases like “I can see that you’re struggling, and I’m here to help” or “It’s okay to feel the way you’re feeling, and I want to help you find the support you need.”

Present Solutions
Offer information about therapy as a potential solution to help your child manage their mental health condition. Explain what therapy involves, such as talking to a trained professional in a confidential and supportive environment. Provide resources or options for finding a therapist, such as seeking recommendations from a doctor, school counselor, or online directories. Discuss different types of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or art therapy, and explore which approach might resonate best with the teen.

Encourage your teen to take an active role in their mental health journey. Let them know that seeking therapy is a brave and positive step towards feeling better. Involve them in the decision-making process, such as researching therapists together or discussing their preferences for therapy sessions. Emphasize their strengths and resilience, reminding them that they have the power to overcome challenges with the right support and resources.

Destigmatize Therapy
Normalize the idea of seeking therapy for mental health concerns. Share examples of people they admire or characters in books or movies who have benefited from therapy. Challenge any misconceptions or stigma surrounding therapy by emphasizing that it’s a sign of strength to seek help when needed. Emphasize that therapy is a confidential and judgment-free space where they can openly explore their thoughts and feelings without fear of being labeled or judged.

By incorporating these strategies into your conversation, you can effectively talk to a teen about starting therapy for a mental health condition with compassion, understanding, and support.

How Embrace U Can Help

At Embrace U we specialize in helping families heal from a mental health challenge. Our outpatient programs are designed to quickly teach adolescents coping and communication skills they can use to manage symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental health disorders. Each participant is assigned a therapist who closely monitors their progress and stays in communication with parents about treatment expectations and goals. Our psychiatric providers can offer medication management while group therapy sessions help participants build a sense of community and realize they are not the only ones experiencing a mental health condition.
Need Help? Please call 615-656-8624 or contact us.


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