Adolescents in Therapy
Updated: Nov 6, 2020
There are unique circumstances when an adolescent attends counseling. Here are a couple things to consider when scheduling your teenager for counseling sessions.
Try to establish "buy-in"
Some adolescents may resist counseling at first, but may be more willing to attend if they have some control over the process. Consider what counselor may be a good fit for your teen, and include them in the process of selecting a counselor if they are willing. Consider skills, age, gender, specialty, and skill set when narrowing down your search for a great counselor. Here are a few points to touch on with your teenager about the benefits of counseling.
1) It's an opportunity to talk with someone outside the family about what's going on.
2) I would love your help in selecting a counselor you think you would be comfortable talking to. Would you prefer to talk to a woman or a man? Someone older or younger?
3) You can discuss anything you want, the counselor is there to listen to you.
4) Going to counseling doesn't mean something's wrong with you, it's just an opportunity to talk through difficult thoughts and feelings with someone who is trained to help.
5) If you don't feel your counselor is a good fit, or if you ever feel uncomfortable, you can tell me, and I will listen to you.
Your teenager may resist counseling
Adolescents may be resistant to attend counseling or take time to "warm up" to the idea of counseling. If you are able to get your teenager's "buy-in" to participate in counseling, this will be very helpful, but if not, counselors who work with adolescents are typically prepared to spend time helping your adolescent feel comfortable in counseling, by explaining the process, answering questions, and spending ample time building trust and rapport. They may use validation, empathy, allow silence, or use creative interventions to model that the counseling space is meant for usage by your teen for their own needs, even if that means testing the counselor's reactions to resistant behaviors. These behaviors, such as silence, sarcasm, using "shocking" language, etc., may seem counterintuitive to effective counseling, but can actually be quite valuable opportunities for a counselor to build trust and rapport in their responses. A counselor will also likely ask your teen to agree to their services, even if parents have already consented. Getting a teen's assent for services can be incredibly important in doing effective work in counseling, and building necessary rapport between client and counselor. It takes time to build this rapport, so be patient, and it is likely that your teenager will come around to counseling with a skilled counselor who is a good "fit" for your teen.
Considerations in confidentiality
Adolescents in counseling typically feel more free to share their thoughts and feelings if there is some level of confidentiality between the teen and the counselor. Since teens are minors, confidentiality can be tricky, as parents typically consent to their child's services as their legal guardians. Counselors are mandated to report any type of information that may indicate that a client or anyone else will be hurt, any reports of abuse, and are legally required to release documentation if subpoenaed by a court. With the exception of these requirements, it is often helpful to maintain as much confidentiality as possible (depending on teen's age, developmental ability, etc.) to increase efficacy of counseling for the teen, as they may feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings if they know there will be some level of confidentiality maintained during their session, and therefore potentially increase effective clinical rapport and outcomes.
You will likely be asked to participate
Receiving information from a teen's parents regarding their environments at school, home, and wherever else they spend time, relationships, behaviors, history of mental health treatment, and so much more, is vital information that helps a counselor determine how to best help a teen client. A parent often has incredibly important information needed to help a counselor get a fuller understanding of a teen's needs, strengths, struggles, and overall functioning in daily life. When you have an opportunity to discuss your teen's needs with their counselor, discuss which behaviors you're seeing, concerns you have, changes/progress you're noticing or not noticing, and know that all the information you provide is a gold mine of useful knowledge to a counselor who may only get a 45-50 min. window into your teen's life each week.
Be patient with the process
Your teen may not discuss the things that you expect them to discuss in counseling. For example, a parent may bring a teen in for counseling due to a recent divorce, and instead, the teen spends time in counseling discussing their plans for prom at school or the stresses of their math class. It is important to allow your teen to use their time in counseling in the way that works for them, and to discuss what they want to bring to the counseling room. They may seem unrelated to the stresses that parents bring them to counseling to discuss, but these conversations allow the counselor to build vital trust and rapport, which is essential to help a skilled counselor dig deeper with any client, regardless of age. Also, a teen may not be ready to discuss certain topics at a predetermined time. Allow your teen the time and space to build rapport with their counselor, discuss what is on their mind without judgment, and move towards healing on their own timeline.
In conclusion, try to offer ways for your teen to be involved in the counseling process, re-frame the idea of counseling into a positive, and be patient with their unique counseling journey. Taking your teenager to counseling can be a great way to allow them an opportunity to process difficult emotions, work through tough situations, and gain healthier coping skills!