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Should You Push Your Child to Be In Therapy?

Resistant teen, Resistant Preteen, Resistant to therapy, One Heart Counseling Center

So you see that your child, preteen or teen could really benefit from therapy. And, your child, preteen or teen doesn’t want to do it.

This is a tough dilemma. One that comes from being an aware and attuned parent. So, right there, you are already winning. You are doing a great job.

I do believe therapy is incredibly beneficial, especially when it is therapy with a therapist that is a great fit (there is alignment with their clinical style, their philosophy on healing, how they practice and personality wise). AND, I believe timing and willingness make a difference. Just like with anything important you will endeavor in life.

So, should you push your kid to be in therapy?

There are a couple of reasons where you would need to use your authority as a parent to push this mandate.

  1. If you believe there could be a safety issue. This means you are concerned that your child or teen might be engaging in self harm or thinking about it. This means self harm in terms of literal physical harm, meaning they are having thoughts of not wanting to live. Or self harm in terms of how they are treating their body (disordered eating, using substances) or they are putting themselves in risky situations such that you are concerned for their physical safety.
  2. If there is a major life event occurring that requires support in order for your child or teen to develop in a healthy way. This could be the death of a family member or person close to your child or teen. This could mean a divorce, the diagnosis of a serious illness, a traumatic event or a discovery of some form of abuse. I’m sure there are events I am missing, but this is just a list to give you an idea.

If you need to mandate that your child be in therapy, it is helpful that both parents support this notion whole heartedly, present that united front and take actions/engage in dialogue that support that position. Otherwise, if one parent is not on board, this can cause some further tension, resistance and splitting. Your child or teen will see that as their way out.

If you are going to require therapy for your teen or child, you can find a place to give them some power of choice. For example: it may be in the power to choose a therapist (you can ask potential therapists for short in person consultations and most will gladly do this free of charge).

If you do need to mandate therapy, be matter of fact about it. Just let them know: this is the behavior or circumstance showing up that lets me know we need more help. It should not an attack on who they are or how they are doing in life.

Finally, you can work with the therapist you choose to structure sessions in such a way that can be mindful of and take into the account the resistance. See this last post about different kinds of resistance and what to do about them.

If you feel like your situation is on the verge of meeting the above criteria, you can always require a series of sessions that has an end date so your child or teen knows there is a limit to this. I would try 10 sessions. Just because it gives enough time for a potential therapeutic relationship to develop, for some skills to be gathered and seeds to be planted. Consider finding a therapist that would be a match for the kind of resistance your child or teen displays. See the post I mentioned in the last paragraph.

Here are some reasons not to push therapy when you child or teen is resistant to it:

  1. While you have concerns that are big enough to feel like your kid needs therapy, there is not a safety risk or major event that would require professional support. Your family might benefit from letting your child or teen know that this is an available resource, a short comment about how it can be helpful (include how it has helped you if you have been to therapy) and that they can ask for this anytime. Keep this brief and to the point. The goal is to drop bread crumbs for them to pick up.
  2. You want their motivation to be what drives therapy. If you are constantly telling them they need to go and they don’t want to, the energy is in the power struggle and that will make it difficult for them to really own choose it for themselves. For your child or teen to be motivated to come to therapy might have you white knuckling it, but it will be worth the wait. The sessions will be more helpful and more productive because of your kids’ investment in it. That means you will save money, time and fighting. Yes! Just remember their threshold for realizing they need to reach out for help will probably be higher than yours. Just like their threshold for tolerating a messy room is higher than yours 🙂
  3. You don’t want to spoil therapy for them in the long run. It is a phenomenal resource when you are ready for it. So, there could come a time in their life when they really need it. You don’t want to set up a terrible experience by trying to push past their resistance when it is not necessary (in the big picture) and then end up making it something they would not access on their own later in life.

Of course, if you have questions or there are nuances to your situation and you are not sure what to do, contact us!

We are happy to help you sort through it to find the best path ahead, even if it is not with One Heart Counseling Center. We just want people to be able to get the help needed at the time it is needed.

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