Did you attend therapy as a teen? Is your teen in therapy? If so, I’m sure the experience was not a happy one. For many teenagers, therapy is, in their word, “stupid” or “weird” and many would rather take death than to sit in an office with a sterile therapist. I totally get it. But sometimes therapy is needed to help the teen develop necessary tools, coping skills, and insights they would not have gotten otherwise. As a child and adolescent therapist, I work with many teens who simply hate therapy. Some kids come on their own because their parents told them they had to, are court ordered by Children and Youth Services or probation, or must attend therapy in order to return to school. Whatever the case, the entire process can be a nightmare for parents who cannot understand why their teen is making such a big deal out of therapy. Below you can find some of the reasons, I have learned from experience, that teens hate therapy:
- Too much talk of emotions: Teenagers hate to talk about emotions, especially boys. Many of my clients ask the question “what’s the point?” Despite my multiple explanations of why talking about emotions is important, most teens zone out, ignore what is being said, or repeatedly nod their heads hoping that I or their families would stop talking. We must keep in mind that teens are impulsive and rarely think things through or process emotions. Part of this is because the adolescent brain doesn’t fully develop until age 24. The other reason for this is that most teens (not all) are driven by impulse, need, or want. If the teen does not believe that something will interest or benefit them, they will shut down and tune out.
- Lack of trust of other adults: Teens simply don’t trust adults. Many believe that adults are only capable of telling them what to do. In some cases, teens who have been abused and betrayed by many adults in their lives may struggle the most with trusting adults. This can spill over into therapy. While parents are hoping that their child comes to therapy with an open mind to talk and engage, they fail to recognize that teens must learn to trust the therapist, must get to know the therapist, and must see how the therapist interacts with his or her parents or guardians before trust can be built.
- Lack of privacy: When I meet with a kid for the first time in therapy I often discuss their legal and moral right to confidentiality and privacy. But I certainly cannot promise to withhold information from parents or guardians that would or could place the teen in danger. For example, a 16-year-old female client asked me not to tell her parents that she was prostituting herself to save money for college. Of course, because the possibility of rape is involved, exposure to drugs and alcohol or STD’s, etc. are all very dangerous, I was not going to keep this secret. Did it ruin our therapeutic relationship, no, but it did cause this young lady to withhold information from me. If a therapist loses therapeutic rapport to keep the child safe then it is well worth it.
- Minimal confidentiality with schools: Some kids come to therapy and have no problem discussing challenges or therapy-related topics. Parents are happy, the client is benefiting, and the therapist is able to build a positive relationship with the client. What can go wrong in this scenario? Well, unfortunately, some therapists are asked by the parent(s) or guardians to speak with a child’s school about his or her progress in therapy. If a parent signs a consent and asks the therapist to speak with the child’s school, a therapist can do so. This can lead to teens feeling angry or betrayed, especially if they know nothing about the therapist speaking with the school. It is often best if parents ask therapists to only report the necessities and to be mindful of the child’s dignity.
Do you have other reasons for why a teen may shy away from therapy? If so, post your thoughts below.
As always, I wish you well