What to Do if Your Teen Refuses to Go to Counseling

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It’s a common problem for many parents. They’ve identified a potential mental health problem, social issue, or behavior problem and they’re worried about their teen. But when they bring up the idea of meeting with a counselor, their teen refuses to go. It leaves many parents feel confused, overwhelmed, and even desperate.

The Problem with Forcing Your Teen to Get Therapy

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

After all, would you feel comfortable speaking with a stranger if someone else tried to force you to do so?

A teen who feels forced to get treatment isn’t likely to be motivated to change. Instead, most teens will refuse to speak if they feel like they’re parents are making them talk to a counselor.

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.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Just because your teen has initially refused counseling, don’t give up. Allow your teen to think about the idea for a few days before broaching the subject a second time. Delicately bring up the subject again when everyone is calm. Avoid talking about when your teen is misbehaving or feeling upset.

The way you express your concerns can make a big difference in how your teen perceives the idea.

If you threaten your teen with counseling, or say anything that your teen interprets to mean that you think he’s crazy, he’s not likely going to be keen on the idea.

Ask your teen how he feels about talking to someone. It’s not uncommon for teens to be embarrassed by their problems and it can be hard for them to admit they need help.

Gently share your concerns by using “I messages.” Say something like, “I’ve noticed you have been spending more time in your room and not much time with friends lately,” or “I’m concerned that you aren’t doing your homework and it worries me that you’ve gotten in trouble at school twice this month.”

Share your idea about counseling and how you think it could be helpful. Ask for input from your teen and be willing to listen to your teen's feelings about it.

Talk to Your Teen’s Doctor

Whether you are concerned about possible ADHD, or you think your teen may have a substance abuse problem or depression, talking to your teen’s doctor can be a good place to start. A doctor can help you determine whether or not the symptoms you are seeing rise to the level of requiring further treatment.

If further treatment is necessary, a doctor can help you 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 doctor. A 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.

Be willing to seek counseling on your own, without your teen. Often, parent-training can be one of the most effective ways to help teens. If your teen attended counseling, appointments would most likely occur for one hour each week. But, when a parent attends counseling, the parent can learn how to coach a teen throughout the week on how to use various skills, manage emotions, and improve relationships. Parent-training often yields better results than individual counseling.

A trained mental health professional can help you identify strategies to 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 guidance counselor at school. Discuss whether or not there are any services available within the school system to help your child. Meeting with a school counselor can sometimes be much less threatening to a teen compared to meeting with a mental health professional in an office setting.

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