What to Do if Your Teen Refuses to Go to Counseling

Teen talking to a therapist
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Some teens are happy to go to therapy. They enjoy talking to an objective adult who can assist with some of their problems.

Not all teens are on board with therapy, however. And convincing a reluctant teen to go to counseling can feel like an uphill battle.

It leaves parents asking questions like, "Should I force my child to see a therapist? Can I bribe my kid to go? Should I just give up on the idea of therapy?"

If you suspect your teen has a mental health problem, behavior disorder, or substance abuse issue, treatment is important. There are several things you can do to help your teen get the treatment he needs. 

Should You Force Your Teen to Get Treatment?

Dragging your teen to see a counselor isn’t likely to be effective. After all, how comfortable would you be talking to a stranger if someone forced you to do it?

A teen who feels forced to get treatment isn’t likely to be motivated to change. So even if they get dragged to their appointments, they aren't likely to talk about their issues—at least not in a productive manner. 

That's not to say you shouldn't make it mandatory that your teen attend at least a few appointments.

Sometimes, a skilled therapist can help a teen feel more comfortable after a few a sessions. And sometimes, a teen who tells you he hates therapy or that he doesn't need help, might be talking openly to a therapist.

He might just not want you to know that he actually likes therapy.

Of course, there may be times when your teen needs help regardless of whether he agrees. If he's at risk of hurting himself or someone else, call 911 or take him to the emergency room. If he's engaging in risky behavior, like he's drugs, treatment should be mandatory because he's not capable of making healthy choices on his own.

How to Bring Up the Subject With Your Teen

If you think your teen might need counseling, the way you bring up the subject is very important. The first conversation you have will likely set the tone for your teen's attitude about therapy.

It’s common for teens to be embarrassed by their problems and it can be hard for them to admit they need help. So it's important to avoid sending a message that could cause him to feel ashamed.

Don't imply your teen is crazy or that she's not smart enough to make good choices. 

Instead, share why you think counseling is important and how it could be helpful. Ask for input from your teen and be willing to listen to your teen's opinions.

Say something like, "I wonder if it would be helpful for you to have someone to talk to besides me." Or say, "I don't always know how to help you with problems so I wonder if it could be helpful for you to talk to someone who works with teens."

Talk to Your Teen's Doctor

Whether you are concerned about possible ADHD, or you think your teen may have depression, start by talking to your teen’s primary care physician. A doctor can assess your teen's needs and help determine whether your teen needs counseling.

If further treatment is necessary, a doctor can identify the most appropriate services and treatment professionals for your child. Even if your teen isn’t willing to attend those services, understanding your options and resources is important.

If your teen isn’t willing to listen to your recommendations about how counseling can be helpful, he may be willing to listen to his physician. His doctor may be able to explain how counseling works and how treatment could address the symptoms.

Options if Your Teen Refuses Counseling

If your teen refuses to go to counseling, don’t despair. You still have several options about how to get help.

  • Seek counseling on your own without your teen. Often, parent-training can be one of the most effective ways to help teens. A therapist may be able to teach you how to coach your child. If your teen knows you're going to counseling to talk about him, he might also be interested in going to share 'his side' of the story.
  • Speak with your teen’s school guidance counselor. Discuss whether there are any services available within the school system to help your child. A teen who won't meet with a counselor outside of school may be willing to speak with a guidance counselor.
  • Create a contract with your teen. If it's a mild issue that you're concerned about, create a contract with your teen. Tell your teen he has to go to a certain number of sessions, such as five, before he can make a decision about whether to continue treatment. 
  • Consider online counseling. Sometimes, teens who won't speak to someone face-to-face will consider talking to a therapist online. Online treatment isn't appropriate for every condition so it's important to talk to a therapist or your teen's physician about the potential pros and cons before you begin treatment. 
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