A lot of people think of therapy as the last resort. They think that therapy is what you go to when you have no other choice. When someone makes you go to it.
This is a common misconception that many of us have about therapy — even as adults. But this stigmatization is oftentimes even more pronounced in teenagers. Think about it, if you were a teenager who is going through changes in your body, emotions, and even thought processes, the last thing you probably want to do is talk to someone about it.
We grow up in society today feeling ashamed for asking for help, even when that help can be exactly what we need at the time. So, when you are thinking about bringing up the topic of therapy to your teenager, keep in mind that they are likely struggling with a lot of changes in their life and they may react in a number of ways — some more unpleasant than others.
What Can a Therapist Help Your Teen With?
Many people believe that therapy is only for people who have problems that need to be solved, people who are traumatized, or people who have severe anxiety or depression. Now, while therapy can be helpful in all of these cases, it is not limited to them.
Sometimes therapy can be a safe space for someone to talk about what is going on in their lives, how they may want to better themselves, or even what their goals and dreams are for their life.
You are a parent and you want your child to have the best life they can and it can be incredibly difficult to watch them struggle through these teenage years where they are beginning to define who they are. It may be that your teenager has talked about their mental health with you or you may have just noticed them becoming more distant or apathetic.
Here are some of the common topics that a therapist can help your teen to work through:
- Social skills
- Self-esteem and confidence
- Family relationships
- Self-harm and suicide risk
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Sexuality and gender identity
Whatever your reason to seek therapy for your teenager, whether it is on this list or not, know that it is likely going to be a delicate subject to bring up. After all, the last thing your child probably wants to hear when they are already feeling awkward and confused about any changes they may be going through is that they should see a therapist for “help.”
How to Bring Up Therapy to Your Teen
In reality, we never know how our children are going to react to something — especially when they are in their “rebellious teen” years. It could be that you bring something up and your teen hops right on board without a fuss or it could be that you simply mention a topic and you’re met with an exasperated “ugh mom.”
We simply do not know how our teens are going to react until we have had the conversation. However, in order to help encourage the best types of responses, it is probably best to not waltz into the conversation completely blind. There are steps that you can take as a parent who loves their child to help the response you get to be more positive and less dismissive.
So, without further ado, here are some tips that you can use to bring up the idea of therapy for your teen in a gentle and non-confrontational way.
1. Be Calm
The last thing that you want to do is seem nervous or unsure when you are talking about therapy. If you seem uncomfortable with the idea, your teen will feel uncomfortable about it as well. Our children are more attuned to our emotions and thoughts than we give them credit for, so make sure that you are not bringing up the topic of therapy in tense situations.
2. Remind Your Teen that You Love Them
When was the last time you told your teen how much you love them? What about how proud you are of them and the person they are becoming?
Teens need affection and positive affirmation just as much (or maybe even more) than they did when they were younger. Even if they don’t seem to show it, this affection does get through to them and it makes them feel loved, wanted, and safe — which is especially important in times when they may be confused about what is going on with their bodies and minds.
3. Identify What the Problem Is
Now, we don’t mean go up to your teen and tell them that they have anxiety so they need therapy or you’ve noticed they seem sad so they should talk to a therapist.
Teens require a more gentle approach — at least if you don’t want them to get defensive and dismissive right off the bat. Instead of telling them what is “wrong” with them, go to them with behaviors that you have noticed that are worrying you.
Maybe your teen has been isolating themselves recently or you never see any of their friends around anymore. Maybe they haven’t been doing their school work or they have been showing quick changes in weight and appetite.
Talk to your teen about these behaviors and remind them that you, their parent, love them and are worried about them.
4. Destigmatize Therapy
As we mentioned before, many people think therapy is the last resort or only meant for traumatic experiences and severe mental health disorders. If you find that your teen is opposed to the idea of therapy because they think that it means something is “wrong” with them, try reminding them that mental health is just as important as physical health.
When our bodies are in pain or sick, we go to the doctor to get medication. Therapy is just the same — only it is for when we are dealing with mental pains and challenges.
5. Be Compassionate
Even if you have prepared for it a hundred times in your mind, the conversation with your teen may not play out how you want it to. If this is the case, be sure to be compassionate with your teen and with yourself.
Talking about therapy can be extremely difficult, especially if you or your teen has a stigmatized view of what therapy is and who it is for. So, if the conversation doesn’t go as planned, don’t worry about it. You can always try again. In fact, trying again can be a great way to show your teen that talking about uncomfortable feelings is ok and adults aren’t perfect either so there is no reason for them to feel bad about being imperfect too.
6. Let Them Be a Part of the Process
The changes we go through as teens are oftentimes completely out of our control. This can leave us feeling powerless and frustrated (due to the lack of power we have over our own lives). So, when it comes to determining if and when to go to therapy, let your teen make some of the decisions.
Give them back some of the power over their lives by giving them options about who to talk to. Maybe they do not feel comfortable going to a therapist right off the bat and they may prefer talking to a school counselor or doing a different type of therapy, like art therapy or group therapy.
Offer options like these so that your teen can feel like they are a part of this process, rather than feeling like this is just one more thing that is out of their control.
7. Be a Good Example
Give your teen a great example by doing your own therapy work for your mental health. Be open about your experience and show them that therapy is a normal and healthy thing to do for our mental health.
Your teen will likely be much more receptive to the idea of therapy if they don’t see it as a type of punishment or a way to “fix” them.
So, if you feel that you are ready to have this conversation with your teen, keep these tips in mind to have a smooth and gentle conversation where they can feel comfortable and in charge of their own decisions.
After you have had your conversation, or if you would like some additional guidance on how to approach the topic with your teen, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow to schedule a session or simply ask a few questions.