You know your child needs help but she refuses to go to therapy. This leaves you angry, frustrated, even scared. You want the help for your child but if she refuses therapy, what can you do?
I first want to acknowledge your efforts and praise you for wanting to get help for your child. You’re in tune with her needs and standing by your decision to seek out professional help is admirable.
Your child may not want to go to therapy for several reasons. She may not want to face the problem, she may feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, or see it as an interference to her life. She may also think you’re punishing or controlling her and is resisting your efforts to maintain whatever little control she has in her life.
Don’t give up. You know your child needs therapy, and she needs you to follow through (even though she doesn’t want it, she will thank you later!). Check out the strategies below to get your kid the help she deserves.
Consider your teen’s schedule
When you book your doctors’ appointment you look at your schedule, right? You want to make sure the appointment works with you and doesn’t interfere with the rest of your life. Your teen is the same way, and she may be resistant to therapy because she has other important things going on.
I have some teen clients who prefer to come right after school, and I have some who are involved in an after school activity so they come later in the evening. Some teens prefer Saturday appointments!
Your kid might ask “How long do I have to do therapy for?” As far as frequency, don’t lay out a set schedule or try to negotiate a schedule like saying “just try 3 appointments.” Tell your child “We’ll take it a session at a time.” Why? Your child will only put in minimal effort and then at the end of the three apointments say “But you promised just 3!!” Then she’ll be angry you went back on your word.
Also, if your child thinks she can bully you out of scheduling treatment, she will. If you have a tendency to give in when your child nags or threatens you, she will spend all her energy at home eroding your authority, instead of in therapy getting better.
Explain the reason behind therapy, the right way
An ideal way of explaining the need for therapy to your reactive teen is to say “It’s not punishment, it’s to support you. I love you and love looks like getting you help.”
Also, your child may need somebody to talk to but she won’t want to agree to talk. “I don’t want to talk to a therapist and you can’t make me!” Your teen is right, nobody can force her to talk if she doesn’t want. So don’t force the issue about talking. I like to tell teens “you don’t have to talk” and nothing is forced. There are other ways to help your teen once she gets in the session.
The therapist you choose matters
A therapist’s style is important to assess. Some therapists are more interactive, provide strategies, and have a more structured appointment. Your child may respond well to motivation and structure. Some therapists are more listeners without an emphasis on any particular structure or intervention. Your child may be more responsive to that type of therapy.
Personality: Some therapists are easy going, soft and quiet, while some are energetic and talkative. It’s important your child finds a good fit. Therapy isn’t helpful if the therapist’s personality rubs your child the wrong way. She won’t be responsive to the interventions if she’s too busy reacting to the personality.
Age, gender, race are also important. Oftentimes teens relate better to someone who looks like them, and are on the younger side. But not always! A good way of figuring this piece out is to have your teen look at a photo of the potential therapist and ask her feelings about the picture. It’s amazing how a photo can help provide an initial connection and that may make your child more willing to try therapy.
Look at the therapist’s credentials and professional experience. Does the therapist specialize in children and teens? Or teens and adults? A child therapist may be more in tune with adjusting her style to meet your child’s needs at her developmental level, and have more strategies try if your child is socially or emotionally younger than her chronological age. She also will have more tools available in her office to utilize like games, sand, or art to help connect with your child.
Bottom line: Finding a therapist for your teen is a lot like shopping for sweaters in the wintertime. If you try a sweater on and it doesn’t fit, that doesn’t mean you go out in the snow with just a t-shirt on. You keep shopping for sweaters until you find the right one! If you child says she doesn’t like her therapist, it’s absolutely OK to find another one, but you don’t stop with the therapy. Your child needs you to stay firm with your limits and not give up on the help you know she needs.
If you’d like to connect with me about how I can help your teen, contact me! I look forward to talking with you.
Jenmarie Eadie is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is passionate about helping children to become less stressed by giving them and their parents tools, support and encouragement. She received her Master’s in Social Work from Arizona State with a dual concentration in Children, Youth, and Families; and Behavioral Health. Her proudest accomplishment is following her dream of opening up a practice that is designed to focus on the whole family. She currently serves families in Southern California.