What if my child doesn’t want to go to therapy?
This is so common! Young kids may not understand what counseling involves or fear that they are going to a “painful” doctors appointment. Older kids may feel that going to counseling means that they are “bad,” “the problem,” or “in trouble.” They may also fear that the therapist’s office is nothing more than a new place to hear what they’ve done wrong.
Family therapy should be none of those things. Though we will tackle problems that have arisen, I make it a priority to reassure all clients that they will not be judged or shamed in our sessions. I also work hard to ensure a comfortable environment that reduces, not increases, existing tension or feelings of awkwardness or fear.
Ultimately, the greatest predictor of success in therapy is trust in the therapist.
What can I do to make my child feel more comfortable in advance of the session?
First of all, let your child know in advance that they will be going to a therapist or counselor (some parents try to use “the element of surprise” for reluctant children, which is almost never a good idea). Explain to your child that therapy is a safe place where you will work together to make good changes in your family. Remember that typically no one person is “at fault” for family problems or even individual behaviors—although it may seem that way at times, change happens as a group effort.
Let your child know that you expect the therapist to be a nice, fun person who they will feel comfortable with. Sometimes therapy can be confusing or uncomfortable, although it should never be overly distressing. Reassure them that if after a while they still feel negative about what happens in therapy, they can talk to you about it and you will hear them out.
Should I attend my child’s therapy sessions?
This is a complicated question, because the way that therapy is constructed is different for each family!
Teens and older kids often build a more positive relationship with the therapist without their parents’ presence in sessions, and oftentimes, parents want their kids to have a “safe space” to discuss their issues privately with their therapist. Other parents want to be involved so they feel informed about problems in their kids’ lives. In the beginning of therapy, I will work with you and your child to discuss the pros and cons of family vs. individual sessions and we will decide, together, about the best way for parents to be involved in this process. In many cases, we do a blend of individual child, family, and parents-only sessions.
Younger children typically benefit from a caregiver’s presence in sessions. Although there are some cases where individual therapy without the family present will be indicated, this is more rare.
Regardless of your child’s age, it is very important that his or her family is involved in this process to some degree. Research has consistently shown that family investment in the therapy process leads to much better outcomes for all members of the family.