Do you need help with an adolescent child who refuses therapy? This is a difficult question parents face when their teen displays signs of mental health issues. Parents can face a tough decision regarding their teen's mental health if they begin showing signs of emotional issues.
You may feel like you have no good options available if your adolescent resists professional help and support. However, understanding why adolescents refuse therapy and the benefits they could receive from seeking treatment can provide insight into how best to approach this situation with care and compassion.
So how do you help an adolescent child who refuses therapy? Let’s explore some of the reasons why, as well as potential strategies for helping them accept assistance, and resources that may be available should you decide to pursue further intervention for your child who refuses therapy.
Why Do Teen Children Refuse the Therapy That They Need?
Adolescents may spurn counseling on various grounds, like the apprehension of assessment or lack of knowledge of what therapy is. Major obstacles to getting a teenager to accept therapy include fear of judgment, a lack of trust, and feelings of discomfort.
Fear of Judgment
Adolescents may be reluctant to open up about their feelings in front of adults due to a fear of being judged or misunderstood. They may be wary of expressing themselves, especially in front of an adult they don’t know. Consulting a therapist, then, can be challenging for them.
Remember what it was like to be a teenager. You were worried about what your friends thought, what the cool kids were doing, whether you wore the right clothes, and if the music you listened to was acceptable to your peers. Kids still feel those things. And there’s mounting evidence that social media tendencies are exacerbating them. so the risk of making them feel judged is always a real one.
Alleviating the apprehension of being judged requires cultivating a space where teens feel secure and valued when disclosing their issues.
Lack of Trust
Another reason some adolescents may not want therapy stems from a distrust of the process or the therapist. And if they’ve had negative past experiences with other adults or professionals, they might be further entrenched in the belief that more therapy isn’t an answer.
Building trust with an adolescent who refuses therapy means extending patience and understanding to the teenager who needs help during times of difficulty.
Many adolescents have no desire to talk about personal matters. It can be intimidating and overwhelming and lead them to avoid therapy altogether. Therapists must take the time to get acquainted before diving into more serious topics. Taking this time allows teens to adjust before delving deeper into conversations regarding mental health concerns or emotional struggles they are facing.
Teenagers may also see the admission of a need for help as a sign of weakness. Many people recognize this admission as a sign of true strength, but few of those people are teenagers. Seeking professional assistance shows courage, strength, and resilience. And most kids have all those qualities.
There may also be an element of fear or embarrassment, so a teenager's insistence that “I don’t need any help” may be a cover for not wanting to admit to feeling apprehension.
Is It Okay to Force Your Adolescent Child to Get Treatment?
The short answer is usually not. A teenager who feels compelled to seek treatment is unlikely to feel motivated to change. Even if they get dragged to their appointments, talking about their feelings will likely be low on their list of priorities that day.
That doesn’t mean you can’t require your teen to attend a few sessions. As mentioned above, a skilled therapist should be able to set the teenager at ease in those few mandatory sessions and perhaps make inroads that will help the client realize the necessity and importance of the process.
Since we were all teens at some point, we can recognize that a teenager might not want his parents to know he’s enjoying the process or that it’s helping. If a teenager complains about going to therapy, but you’re not having to haul them in kicking and screaming each week, it might be going better than they’re letting on.
All this goes by the wayside, though, if an adolescent is at risk of hurting themselves or someone else. Risky behaviors are also red flags that can justify forcing a kid into a therapist’s office.
How Do You Help an Adolescent Child Who Refuses Therapy?
Overcoming objections can make an enormous difference in talking a teenager down from their adamant refusal to participate in therapy.
1. Explain What Therapy Is
How many teenagers know anything about anything? Not a majority. We often fear what we don’t understand, so getting your adolescent to understand what therapy is may do a lot to help.
Age-appropriate explanations can help someone understand better what the process entails. Young children need to know that they won’t get any shots. Teenagers might need specific instruction about client confidentiality and that nothing they share with a therapist will get back to mom and dad.
Having a better understanding of what they can expect may help assuage your teenager’s doubts.
2. Make Them Part of the Process
Just as we avoid tantrums from our kids when they’re toddlers by giving them choices, we can help teenagers better accept therapy and the need for it by giving them some input into the process.
Offer different treatment options, allow them to essentially “audition” a therapist or two, and allow them to have a part in the final decision. This thought process is similar to the one many people use with the type of work supervisor who needs to believe that the new office procedure was his idea.
3. Find the Right Therapist
Every patient is different, no matter what age. Therapists won’t be one-size-fits-all. You’ll need to find one that your teenager can work with. If they don’t like or respect the person they are working with, therapy will be ineffective.
If your teen has tried therapy in the past and didn’t get anything out of it, ask questions. What didn’t they like? What helped? What didn’t? (And make them give real answers as opposed to the non-communicative catch-alls many teenagers use: “Nothing helped. It was all terrible.”)
These questions can help you select a therapist and make your teenager more amenable to the process.
4. Don’t Give Up
Helping an adolescent child who refuses therapy is not a one-conversation undertaking. Important conversations aren’t typically settled in one sitting. Progress may come gradually. So don’t give up on the conversation. If your child says no the first time you talk about therapy, keep trying.
It’s also important to continue listening to how your teen feels and what they think they need. Use the strategies above and try asking clinicians what they would recommend.
5. Bring Up the Subject With Your Teen Positively
If you think your teen might need counseling, how you broach the subject is very important. The first conversation you have will likely set the tone for your teen’s attitude toward therapy.
It’s common for teens to be embarrassed by their problems, and it can be hard for them to admit they need help. As such, it’s important to avoid sending a message that could cause feelings of shame.
You don’t want to imply your teen is crazy, that there’s something wrong with them, or that they’re not smart enough to make good choices. Instead, share why you believe counseling is important and how it could be helpful. Ask for input from your teen and be willing to listen to your teen’s opinions.
If you experience therapy yourself, consider sharing that with your teen, which can normalize it and remove some of the stigma the adolescent may associate with it.
The decision to help an adolescent child who refuses therapy is a difficult one. It requires understanding why they may be refusing, exploring the potential benefits of therapy, and considering strategies that can make it easier for them to engage in treatment.
If you are worried about your adolescent’s mental health and well-being, do not hesitate to seek professional assistance. There are many resources available that can provide support as you work with your adolescent on their journey towards healing and growth.
Take action now to help an adolescent child who refuses therapy. Reach out to us at Elevate Counseling for guidance on how best to approach the situation with empathy, understanding, and patience.