Does your teen need help? Tips and Suggestions
You spotted something unusual about your child’s behavior or perhaps saw that your child is being increasingly sensitive about small things. Just about anything that deviates from your child’s usual pattern of emotions, behavior, etc., may leave you worried, and you go on to find out what’s wrong. So let’s assume that you spoke to your child, did your bit of research and even found out about a therapist who can help with your child. Now what? How will you approach the subject of psychotherapy with your teen? Is he/she going to willingly accept speaking to a total stranger about their concerns? Is it going to be easy for them to accept that they need help? Telling anybody, adult or adolescent, that they need therapy, conveys the message that you feel something is wrong with them and only professional help can sort their life out. This attitude can be largely blamed on the stigma associated with mental health issues and thus you cannot really blame the person in question for feeling so. As an adult, we may disregard the myths and stigma associated with seeking help for our mental hygiene, but it’s difficult for a young adolescent to do the same for several reasons.
Let’s look at some of the challenges that you may face when approaching the topic of seeking therapeutic help with your child and ways to overcome them:
When introducing the idea of therapy, wait for a calm and relaxed moment. If you bring in the need for therapy when you and your child are having a heated argument about something or immediately after a negative experience, therapy will sound more like a punishment and children may rebel against this idea as something that you are imposing on them. Usually, the first reaction that a child may have when told that they need to see a therapist, is that they may become upset about it. In such a case, it’s important that you explain to them, why you feel that such a visit will help.
Share your concerns with them and also reassure them that not only him/her, but you, will also be going with them for their visits and be present with them when needed. One major reason for children, especially adolescents, getting upset over therapy visits, is their perception that their peers, will consider them mentally unstable and treat them as outcasts. Their fear is not unfounded as very often classmates and friends tease children seeking therapeutic help. If such a concern is voiced by your child, you must first quell their fears by explaining to them that there is nothing wrong with seeking therapy and all matters will be held confidential. If such cases are reported after the therapy has started, you must approach the school and ask the school authorities to educate the students about the benefits of therapy and why such taunting behavior can harm not only your child but others who may need similar help in the future. Generally, teens understand the implications of their behavior and act accordingly.
It’s all about making your child strong enough to pursue what’s best for them (in this case, the therapy), and ignore what’s being said, which again can be achieved through therapy and your support as a parent. They may also worry about the confidentiality of the information they share with the mental health practitioner. As a parent, it is imperative that you assure them, that whatever they share with their therapist will remain with them and even you will not be informed about the same, unless your child feels comfortable about it and unless there are risks to your child’s safety.
As parents, we want to know everything that our child is experiencing, and this desire is heightened when the child is seeing a therapist. It’s very crucial that you do not grill your child for information after sessions. If they feel like sharing information with you, they will do so themselves. Never use therapy as a threat or source of discipline, this will not only bring resentment but will also hamper the positive growth for which your child was sent to therapy in the first place.
It may so happen that your child ends up not liking a particular therapist or is unable to develop trust for the therapist you take them to. In such cases, it’s important that you don’t pressure him/her to continue therapy with that therapist, instead, find another one. Pressuring your child to trust a therapist will ultimately lead to a dead end with your child going for therapy but not benefiting at all.
Finally, there may come a point that your child agrees to see the therapist, but resists the process by saying that they will go for therapy but will not talk. In such a case, agree with your child and let your therapist handle this resistance. For a teenager, life can often be overwhelming. Having someone to talk to, who will not judge them, and is not part of their day to day interactions, can help them in making better choices and increase their self-confidence. Therapy helps even when there are no apparent concerns.