by Kristin Cicciarelli | Contributor
Without a doubt, today’s teens and tweens are under a great deal of pressure. From academic performance, to the need to always be “on” (technology and otherwise), to sports competition, to dealing with increasingly common challenges such as divorce, blended families and learning differences, not to mention everyday hormonal fluctuations—it’s no wonder our children are struggling. For many reasons, young people would benefit from talking to an objective, trained professional who is ready to listen to them; in other words, a psychotherapist. However, for some parents—even those who have been in therapy themselves—there remains a “stigma” regarding therapy for their children. But why? Perhaps it’s because a parent worries that “Therapy will label my child, or make him think there’s something wrong with him.” Or, that “Therapy will label me [as a failed parent].” Additionally, the parent may be concerned that he will be challenged by his teen in a family session. For example, if a child feels his parent is contributing to his need for overachievement. The reasons for avoiding therapy aren’t always clear but certainly worthy of exploration.
What Many Teens Really Think About Therapy
Our children are our most precious responsibilities, and parents take our jobs very seriously. We naturally want what’s best for our kids, but because we love them so deeply, we’re not always able to be objective about what that might be. Psychotherapist Mary Sanger of Insights Collaborative Therapy Group has information that parents may find comforting. “Many of my teenage clients actually want to tell their friends that they have a therapist. It’s considered the ‘adult thing to do’,” she says. Surprising? Maybe. But when you think about it from a teen’s perspective, it makes sense. “Therapy provides a safe place for young people to share and process feelings, thoughts and behavior without judgment,” Sanger says. “That isn’t to say we only talk about those things. For example, if a teen tells me he’s drinking alcohol, I’m not there to punish him, but we’ll certainly talk about why he’s doing it and together explore better coping tools.”
What About Confidentiality? Will the Therapist Know More Than I Do?
This is a common concern, but rest assured: if a child is a minor, then the parent needs to make the initial contact with the therapist. In her own practice, Sanger requires at least one session with the parent(s) alone to help determine the nature of their relationship with the child, decipher personalities and determine whether she would be a good fit for the family. Following that, there will likely be one session that is split into two: the first half with the child and the second with the entire family where Patient Rights and Responsibilities are discussed in front of everyone. Once therapy is ongoing, she might meet on a regular basis with parents or just periodically as requested.
What’s In It for Them?
If someone told you they had a theoretically proven way to help your child boost his confidence and self-esteem; give him a greater awareness of personal strengths and values; cope with disappointment so it doesn’t turn into depression (for both child and parent); develop healthy peer relationships; and improve his relationship with you, you’d want to know more, right? In fact, therapy can be an important tool in achieving all of these goals. Insights’ child and adolescent therapist Laura Elpers says, “Therapy is one of the most effective ways to assist young people in creating self-directed resolutions to personal concerns.” When teens discover their own healthy tools, they’re much more likely to use them than if those same tools had been suggested (or mandated) by their well-intentioned parents.
If you believe that your child would benefit from psychotherapy, don’t delay. Find a therapist who will help all of you work through problems, develop a better understanding of each other and most importantly, grow together in love.
Mary Sanger, LPC-S, LMFT-S, LCDC, is the Founder and CEO of Insights Collaborative Therapy Group located in Dallas. She specializes in marriage & family therapy.
Laura Elpers, M.S., LMFT, is a therapist at Insights Collaborative Therapy Group, specializing in child/adolescent therapy and parenting issues.