What to Do if Your Teen Refuses to Go to Counseling

Many teens aren't interested in speaking to a counselor.
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Convincing a teen to go counseling can feel like an uphill battle for many parents. It can be an extremely frustrating and anxiety-provoking issue for a parent who suspects a teen may have a mental health problem, behavior disorder, or substance abuse issue.

If your teen refuses to go to counseling, don't give up. There are several things you can do to help your teen get the treatment he needs. 

The Problem with Forcing Your Teen to Get Therapy

Dragging your teen to see a counselor isn’t likely to be effective.

After all, how comfortable would you be talking to a stranger if someone forced you to do it?

A teen who feels forced to get treatment isn’t likely to be motivated to change. So even if they get dragged to their appointments, they aren't likely to talk about their issues—at least not in a productive manner.  

Sometimes a skilled counselor can help a teen feel more at ease after the first session. Often, it makes sense to contract with a teen to attend just a few sessions. Then, after a few appointments, further treatment needs and options can be re-evaluated. Your teen might decide it's not as bad as she thought.

Of course, there may be times when your teen needs help regardless of whether she agrees. If she's at risk of hurting herself or someone else, call 911 or take her to the emergency room.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Just because your teen refuses counseling once, doesn't mean you should give up.

Allow your teen to think about the idea for a few days before broaching the subject a second time.

Share why you think 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.

It’s common for teens to be embarrassed by their problems and it can be hard for them to admit they need help.

So it's important to avoid sending a message that could cause him to feel ashamed.

The way you express your concerns makes a big difference in how your teen is likely to respond. Don't imply your teen is crazy or that she's not smart enough to make good choices. 

Say something like, "I wonder if it would be helpful for you to have someone to talk to besides me." Or say, "I don't always know how to help you with problems so I wonder if it could be helpful for you to talk to someone who works with teens."

Talk to Your Teen’s Doctor

Whether you are concerned about possible ADHD, or you think your teen may have depression, start by talking to your teen’s primary care physician. A doctor can assess your teen's needs and help determine whether your teen needs counseling.

If further treatment is necessary, a doctor can identify the most appropriate services and treatment professionals for your child. Even if your teen isn’t willing to attend those services, understanding your options and resources is important.

Also, if your teen isn’t willing to listen to your recommendations about how counseling can be helpful, he may be willing to listen to his physician. His doctor may be able to explain how counseling works and how treatment could address the symptoms.

Options if Your Teen Refuses Counseling

If your teen refuses to go to counseling, don’t despair. You still have several options about how to get help.

Seek counseling on your own without your teen. Often, parent-training can be one of the most effective ways to help teens.

A therapist may be able to teach you how to coach your child. Whether your teen is struggling with behavioral issues or a mental health problem, a counselor can help you identify strategies that could help your teen.

There are often techniques and skills that parents can use to address mood issues, behavior problems, or substance abuse issues.

Another option is to speak with your teen’s school guidance counselor. Discuss whether there are any services available within the school system to help your child. A teen who won't meet with a counselor outside of school may be willing to speak with a guidance counselor.

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