There are many different ways a child becomes one of my clients: I’ve had kids google therapists, print out my profile, and ask their parent to schedule an appointment with me, often times families are referred, or maybe the front office staff directed them to me; either way, one thing I always want to know when I’m meeting with parents for an intake is, “Does your child want to come to therapy?” About 50% of my clients ask to come, for about 45% of my clients the parents stated that the client doesn’t know yet they will be coming to therapy but they think they will be okay with it even if it takes some time, and about 5% or less are completely opposed. A question I’m often asked by parents is, “How should talk to my child about coming to therapy?” This is truly one of my favorite questions to answer. Here are 4 main points to cover when talking to your kids about coming to therapy.
Health: Children are used to going to all kinds of doctors for checkups (pediatricians, dentists, eye exams, etc.). You can teach them that in your family you value keeping your head and your heart healthy too, and everyone in the family gets to see a therapist at some point.
It’s A Gift: Bringing your child to therapy is such a huge gift to them (even if they aren’t ready to see it that way yet). Therapy can be expensive for some families are you are willing to pay that so that they have a place they feel safe to talk and learn new skills. While in therapy, they learn effective communication, how to cope when things aren’t fair or easy, and self-control. How many adults do you know or work with that still lack those skills? They don’t teach these skills in school. You’re gifting your child with learning these skills now and therefore hopefully won’t struggle as much when they are older. Additionally, it is my personal belief that there is not one child in middle school that couldn’t benefit from seeing a counselor, even short term.
Don’t make them feel like the “Identified Problem”in your family: Often times kids are the most resistant to participate in therapy because they perceive that the reason they are there is because something is “wrong with them,” they are the cause of all the problems in their family, they are broken and I’m supposed to fix them. There is so much shame in those messages. It is okay to acknowledge that you see an issue though. It’s helpful to say something like, “We’ve noticed that you get really upset at times. We’ve even heard you say that you feel like you can’t control your body and your emotions and that sounds like a really hard thing to deal with all the time. It hurts our heart to see you hurting and we feel like we don’t have the skills the help you. We went to see a therapist and he/she is going to help us learn how to help/support you better and will talk with you about your feelings and teach you ways to help yourself.” This approach sends the message that you are in this together and that you are willing to learn more as well.