While the stigma around counseling has lessened over the years, there can still be some misperceptions about what it is that we do. And let’s be honest, sometimes people are hesitant to take their child to see a therapist because they have an idea of therapy in their heads that scares the mess out of them.
When it comes to children and teens, we frequently hear parents say, “I’m worried about my child and think she needs help, but when I mentioned counseling to her she said she didn’t want to go. How should I talk to my kid about counseling?”
So here are a few pointers…
- Pick the time and the place – Believe me when I say, bringing up the idea of your child seeing a therapist in the midst of a heated “discussion” in your local grocery store is not going to go over well with them. Everyone involved will be reacting off their current emotions and your child might interpret therapy as a form of punishment. Start this discussion at a calm moment when all parties involved have the energy and time for a conversation.
- Identify the concern – Before you chat with them about therapy, identify and narrow down your concerns about your child. Think through how you will talk about this. Try to chose “softer” words to describe your concerns and refrain from using labels. For example, instead of saying, “You’re failing classes and I think you’re depressed. We need to get you in to a therapist,” re-phrase this to something softer like, “I know this semester has been really tough. You’ve been struggling with school and I know you’ve been spending a lot of time in your room. I know a counselor who has helped other kids with things like this. What do you think about meeting with her to discuss some of this?”
- Check in with your child – What are they thinking and feeling in light of what you just shared with them? Reflect back to them what you think they might be feeling. Let them know it is very normal if they are feeling upset, angry, or anxious.
- What is therapy? – Especially if your child is showing some resistance to the idea of therapy, ask them what their understanding of therapy is. The more you understand what they are thinking, the more you can debunk some of the potentially false beliefs are that they are experiencing. If they are worried, tell them that a counselor is someone who is really good at helping people with some of the specific things they are experiencing.
- When they still don’t want to go – Sometimes kids still might not understand why they need help or might not want to go to a counselor. A good thing to say is, “I’m hearing you don’t understand why you need to meet with a counselor. If you and (insert name of the therapist here) meet and decide counseling isn’t necessary at this time, then we won’t need to do it. Your mom and I love you and think this is the best thing for you right now.”
If you need extra advice or are still having trouble with this, reach out to a mental health professional or to one of our therapists.
We will be more than happy to help you get over this road bump.
Mary Overstreet, LAMFT, LAPC
moverstreet @ GROWcounseling.com
Photo Cred: Jenny818