What if my teenager needs therapy

…but says she or he won’t go?

Many teenagers don’t want to come to therapy. The idea of talking to someone they’ve never met about really personal things is not appealing to a lot of people, especially teens. Please remind your teen that the purpose of coming in to talk to a therapist is to make life better, not worse. We will need to spend some time talking about the things that your teen thinks will make his or her life better (e.g., spending more time with friends) and what the obstacles are that prevent these things from happening.

Here is an example: Let’s say that your 14 year old daughter hasn’t been allowed to spend much time with her friends because she doesn’t do her homework and you don’t feel she should spend time having fun if she’s not taking care of her responsibilities. You’re frustrated because restricting time with friends doesn’t seem to be working. Every time you bring it up, she seems really angry and disrespectful. She spends all of her time in her room and sometimes it looks like she’s been crying a lot. You think that coming to therapy could make her life better. She thinks she doesn’t need to talk to a therapist, she needs her friends. So, you drag her into a session with me. The conversation might go something like this:

Me: So, what do you think we can do to make your life better?

Her: I don’t know. Nothing. I don’t want to be here.

Me: Well, most people your age would rather be doing something other than coming here, to be honest. What kinds of things would you rather be doing than this?

Her: I don’t know. Probably hanging out with my friends.

Me: Ok, how much time do you get to see your friends.

Her: Never.

Me: What?! Why?

Her: My mom won’t let me see them. It’s all her fault.

Me: That’s terrible! Did she say what you need to do to in order to hang out with friends more?

Her: She said I have to get my grades up, but I can’t, it’s impossible.

…and then away we go into a discussion of how she has come to believe that it’s impossible for her to succeed academically. This example does not refer to any specific conversation I’ve had with anyone in particular, but it is a general example of how I often work with teenagers who are struggling, but feel that therapy has nothing to offer them.