For someone who has never engaged in counseling before, the idea of sitting down with a stranger and sharing your most intimate thoughts, behaviors, and feelings can be pretty intimidating. Imagine being a teen and having to do this with an adult that their parent or guardian selected for them. Although adolescence is a time to practice more independence and decision-making, those in counseling may not have much choice over who they will be seeing. Additionally, some teenagers who find themselves in a counselor’s office may feel they did not have much of a role in whether they wanted to participate. Often, concerned parents or guardians contact a therapist, hoping that their child will open up and connect with another trusted adult. However, in a teen’s world that is so often filled with corrections, limitations, and oversight, this can feel intrusive or even akin to punishment. As a parent or guardian, you want your child to recognize the support you are offering them. You may even want them to be excited at the idea of counseling – as a counselor; this is how I hope they feel! Here are some simple ways that you can introduce the concept of counseling to them.
Present Counseling as an Opportunity.
Start by setting aside time to have a meaningful conversation with your teen about why you think counseling would be a good idea. Describe the behaviors you have been observing or the feedback you have received from others. Make sure to approach this in a non-judgmental and gentle way. So instead of saying, “You are failing school,” try, “I can see that school is tough right now.” Let them know that counseling is something you are inviting them to in hopes that it helps them. Several celebrities and prominent figures in society are speaking out more about the importance of mental health. Reference someone in the public eye, or maybe individuals in your personal life who promotes counseling. You are making this suggestion not because they have done something wrong but because you want them to feel better.
Listen to What They Have to Say.
Your teen may not be that enthusiastic at having to spend an hour a week with a stranger talking about their feelings and experiences. Not only is counseling emotionally draining, but it is also a time commitment and hard work! This one hour a week takes time away from the things your teen enjoys doing, like hanging out with friends, playing videogames, or watching TikTok videos on endless loops. Try to be understanding and patient if your teen balks at the idea and gives you their reasons why they cannot (or will not) enter counseling. If your teen is telling you they are not willing to participate, believe them. Forcing them into counseling may not be the approach you want to try. Instead, hear them out, validate their feelings, and remind them of the benefits of talking to someone. Suggest they give it a try for a few sessions with the option to back out if it does not feel right.
Remind Them That Counseling Is Their Safe Space.
Counseling is an opportunity to share some of your most intimate thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The last thing anyone in counseling wants is for that information to get outside of their session. Reassure your teen that their counselor practices confidentiality and design meetings for the teen – not the parent. While there are some limitations to confidentiality, your teen’s therapist will do their absolute best to ensure their sessions’ content is protected. I always remind my clients that I keep in touch with parents about the goals, objectives, and overall themes of our sessions, but I ask parents to refrain from requesting session details. It may be tempting to learn more about what your teen is discussing behind closed doors but remember your reason for signing your teen up for counseling in the first place. You want them to feel comfortable disclosing uncomfortable stuff so they can work through it. Ensure them you will respect their privacy in this process.
Include Them in the Therapist Hunt.
Allow your teen to be a part of the search for their therapist. Most of the success in counseling depends upon the relationship between the client and their therapist. Since your teen will have to practice vulnerability, let them have a voice in who they will do that with. Ask if they have any preferences regarding their counselor’s gender identity, race, age, or personality. Invite your teen to look at the names and faces you scroll through and read over the bios together. Seeing a picture and visiting a website makes that counselor less of a stranger. Including your teen in the hunt gets them more interested in the commitment and ensures they match with someone who feels comfortable.
Remove Any Pressure.
Choosing to participate in counseling is choosing to make a change. As I said earlier, engaging in therapy is challenging work. If your teen has agreed to this offer, celebrate that with them. Express your excitement for them to get the help you know they deserve. Let them know they are brave in doing so and that you recognize it takes a lot of courage to open up to others. Tell your teen that your role is to support them and that you are not expecting any changes overnight or even over the next several nights. Change takes time, and being patient with them is just one way to demonstrate that support as they embark on this journey.
As a society, we must continue dismantling the stigma around mental health. As a parent, you can do this through the way you present counseling to your teenager. Encouraging them to prioritize their emotional wellbeing, develop greater self-awareness, and move through challenging times is one of the best gifts any parent can offer.