DOES MY TEENAGER NEED COUNSELLING?
As a parent of a teenager, you’ve got the hardest job in the world. You are trying to raise a responsible individual that can make their own way in life, but you are also faced with your teenager’s struggles as they try to discover who they want to be. While conflict, self-exploration and emotional ups and downs are typical for teenagers, how do you know when your teenager might need counselling?
How to know when a teenager should see a psychologist
All teenagers experience difficulties at times, like troubles with friends, family issues, or problems at school. If you or one of your teenager’s teachers has noticed a marked change in the mood and behaviour of your teenager, it may be a good time to take your teen to psychologist. Generally, teens who need help may seem sad, have angry outbursts, withdraw from friends or family, and refuse to discuss what is wrong. Parents may also notice changes in habits, such as sleep and eating patterns or drug and alcohol use. Any drop in school marks might also suggest that your teen is experiencing difficulties.
Finding the right psychologist
It can be quite overwhelming to pick the right professional to help your teen. The most important factor to consider is a psychologist who has experience working with teens as this age group has specific interests and issues. It can be really hard for your teenager to go for counselling so you want to find someone who you feel would be a good fit for your teenager. You can also ask friends and family if they know of a good psychologist who has worked with teens before.
How to talk to your teen about counselling
Many teenagers are resistant to coming for counselling as they think something is “wrong” with them or their friends might judge them if they knew they were in counselling. It is important that you avoid approaching your teenager with accusations, lectures and angry or disappointed reactions. This could make your teen feel ashamed and make them not want to see a psychologist. Instead, express your concern in a loving and open way, letting your teenager know you want to help and support them to be happier, healthier and more productive. Let your teenager know that you are willing to try anything that could help them, including counselling. When counselling is someone else’s idea, your teen may feel like resisting the whole idea. But learning a bit more about what counselling involves and what to expect can help make counselling seem okay.
How will counselling work?
Counselling generally starts with an evaluation phase that lasts 1 to 3 sessions so that your teen can get a good sense of the psychologist and decide if there are issues that they would like to work on in counselling. After this evaluation phase, you and your teenager may decide to continue with weekly counselling sessions. The psychologist and your teenager will work together to reach their goals by developing new skills or thinking about situations in new ways. When your teenager feels that they have reached their goals, the psychologist and your teenager will work towards ending counselling.
What if your teen refuses?
Ask your teen to attend 3 sessions as most teens start to feel safe and become engaged in the process within this period of time. Psychologists who work with teens are prepared for the resistance that most teenagers show towards counselling. Ideally, your teenager should feel that counselling is a safe, comfortable space that is just about them. Counselling involves a large commitment of time, money, and energy, so it is very important that your teen feels comfortable working with the psychologist. If they are not comfortable, it might mean looking for another psychologist who might be a better fit for your teen.
Making the most out of counselling
One of the best things you can do when your teenager is in counselling is to become an active participant. Acknowledge to your teenager that counselling is anxiety-provoking and that it is normal to feel that way. Your teenager is going to work on things during their sessions and at home. Ask your teen how you can help to maximize the benefit of their sessions. Your teenager may invite you into sessions or ask to support and be involved in other ways.
Understandably, most parents want to know exactly what is happening in counselling and want to see progress immediately. It is important to remember that counselling is a confidential space for your teen and your teen will reveal information to their psychologist that you won’t disclose to you. However, be assured that there are legal exceptions to your teenager’s right to confidentiality: if the psychologist has good reason to believe that another person is in harm; if the psychologist has good reason to believe that there is abuse or neglect of a teenager or vulnerable adult; or if the psychologist has good reason to believe that your teenager is in imminent danger of harming himself or herself. Your psychologist would inform you and your teenager of any time when these will have to be put into effect. Your teenager’s psychologist will also give you feedback with your teen’s permission.
We all need spaces that are just about us. Teenagers feel that their privacy and their own space is very important as they are trying to assert their independence and make their own decisions. Counselling can be very helpful for teenagers to work out their conflicts, explore who they want to be and find solutions. Sometimes, teenagers need a parent to identify that they could benefit from counselling and encourage them to come to a space that will be just about them.