You may know that your teenager needs counseling, but how in the world do you get him to agree to come?
You certainly can’t force him into counseling, unless the situation is really bad, i.e. the police and the court are involved. You can’t trick him into coming, because that would never stick. You may be able to bribe him to come, but that will be short lived as well. So, how do you get your teenager off of your couch and onto mine?
Here are a couple of ideas.
1. Find a therapist who specializes in working with teens.
I’m not talking about the therapist who says they work with couples, individuals, families, children and adolescents. You don’t need someone who claims to work with everyone. You need someone with the skills to engage your son respectfully and work artfully with his ambivalence to change. Ask the therapist how long they have worked with teens and what kind of experience they have working with your son’s particular issues. Finding the right therapist for your son is more than half the battle. Take the time to find the right person and therapy can be quite helpful.
2. Talk to your son honestly, but strategically.
Try to avoid a power struggle at this point, but be as honest as possible. “I am really concerned about your behavior and your grades and I want you to give counseling a try.” Make sure to communicate your concern as a sign that you care and that you want him to get the support he needs. Consider asking some open ended questions to get him thinking about counseling. “What do you think it would be like to talk to a counselor?” Try to avoid using counseling as a threat or a punishment. That will likely set up a barrier to getting him in the door.
3. Get him to the first session.
I often tell parents to ask their son to come to one session to meet me and check out my office. If possible you can empower him to be a part of the decision. If you are interviewing several therapists you can allow him to choose the one he likes best. Usually, if I can have one session with a teenager I can connect with him and come to an agreement for him to come back. Getting your son to the first session is an important step. If he doesn’t show up, the therapist can’t begin to help.
4. Stay out of the way.
If you are fortunate enough to find a therapist your son connects with, it is important for you to allow the work to happen. Your son needs to feel like he has a safe place to talk about anything that is on his mind and his privacy will be respected. Trust your son’s therapist to involve you in the process when it will be helpful. It can be difficult to give your son the time and space to allow therapy to work, but it is crucial. Try to avoid interrogating him after his sessions to find out what he talked about.
I have to be honest with you, finding a good teen therapist is difficult. Convincing your son to engage in counseling is no small challenge either. However, if you follow these steps you might just be able to get your son off of your couch and onto mine.