How do you convince your teenager to see a therapist?


As a therapist I’ve specialized in working with teenagers since 2009. Before coming to Life Transitions, I spent a number of years providing therapy to teen boys and girls in an outpatient adolescent clinic at The Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Being the only man in that clinic led to a natural area of clinical focus: working with teenage boys and young men coping with depression, anxiety, anger issues, or other behavioral problems. The teens in my office were often disruptive at school or at home, and were having a very hard time growing up. Another thing they almost always had in common was this: they absolutely did not want to be in therapy.

Being the parent of a teenager isn’t easy, especially when they need help and haven’t been able to talk about it. Nothing makes a parent feel more helpless than seeing their children suffer and not even knowing what the problem is. This is something that the parents of boys know especially well. When boys are having a problem they are notorious about keeping it a secret.

One of the toughest things in the world for a man of any age to do is ask for help. Asking for help, especially professional help, flies in the face of our determination to solve our own problems and conquer our own demons. We are very stubborn like that. More than once I’ve sat across from young men who were angry to begin with, and who especially resented being brought to counseling by a parent or guardian. Sometimes, they refused to even talk to me at all!

So, how do I handle that? What do you when you’re supposed to help a teenager who resents having to talk to you in the first place?

I begin simply, by asking questions, by being genuinely curious, by listening, and by never, ever judging. That last step is by far the hardest, but it’s a critical part in creating a safe space to talk. As the parent of my own teens (a boy and a girl) I know how easy it is to fall back on giving advice or issuing orders as a way to solve a problem. As parents, we’re often exhausted by our own lives and can be overwhelmed by the problems our children are facing. It’s temping to jump in and tell them how to fix it, but we sometimes forget that it’s so much easier when we’re on the outside looking in.

So how do you convince a hesitant teen to see a therapist? One thing you can do is reassure them that they get to choose what to discuss. Until they’re ready, it’s OK to keep it to themselves. In therapy the client has the power to talk or not talk and the therapist will never try to force a client who isn’t ready to talk.

Here’s what I tell all my clients, especially those who are hesitant about therapy: I’m not here to tell you what to do. I’m here to listen to you, to learn about you, to learn what YOU want to change or accomplish in your life, and to help you build realistic strategies for getting there.

In the end, I’ve found that teens here in Macomb, Michigan are like teens everywhere. They want pretty much the same things that their parents want for them: to get along, to be understood, to do well in school, and to learn how to take the next steps to becoming a responsible adult. It’s not uncommon for our teen years to be accompanied by anxiety, depression, or anger. What we all have to learn is that sometimes we can’t fix it all by ourselves alone, and that it’s OK to have someone help us along the way.

Jeffrey (JD) House, LMSW is a fully licensed clinical therapist at Life Transitions in Macomb, Michigan. To schedule an appointment you can call Life Transitions at 586-255-0499. Or, to contact JD directly for a brief phone consultation, you can call him at 586-372-9944, or email him [email protected]