If your teenage son is exhibiting negative changes in behavior or experiencing emotional trauma from parental divorce, a death in the family or other event, it might be time to consider psychological help. Be prepared for the possibility of resistance, however -- the male brain just isn't wired for prolonged discussions about intimate issues and personal problems, says psychotherapist Richard Loebl, writing for GoodTherapy.org. Also, teen boys are often leery of therapy because they are socialized from an early age to believe that they should be able to handle problems on their own, without anyone's help. Despite these obstacles, you can persuade your son to talk to a psychologist if you patiently approach the matter with the right strategy.
Present therapy as an opportunity, not a punishment. Mention that you have noticed some changes in him and that therapy could be helpful. Tell your son that talking to a psychologist will give him a safe space to say things that he might not feel comfortable saying among other people, and that there will be no judgment, scolding, or punishment for it.
Assure him that anything he discusses with the psychologist will be kept strictly confidential. According to licensed therapist Jill Crawford, teenagers often think that a psychologist will reveal confidences to parents. Tell your son that state and federal laws mandate that client-psychologist confidentiality be kept intact unless there are extreme circumstances involved. For example, a psychologist will be compelled to speak out if a client indicates he is a threat to himself or others.
Listen attentively to your son. Eliminate outside distractions -- cell phones, television, and any other potential disruptors -- as much as possible. Be sensitive to his feelings. Avoid taking them lightly or dismissing them. Your son might not agree with you about therapy, but the discussion will be much smoother if he sees that you are fully engaged with him.
Avoid bargaining or negotiating about therapy with your son. Crawford advises parents not to agree to terms that they might be unwilling to uphold once therapy begins. For example, say that your son agrees to go to therapy for a month, and during that time his psychologist reports substantial progress. What if your son refuses to return, since he only agreed to a month and nothing more? If you try to force your son to go, despite the one-month bargain you made with him, he will be even more resistant to therapy in the end.
Support your son emotionally, whether he decides to see a psychologist or not. Talk openly and frequently with him. Be open to feedback from him, especially if it's not entirely positive. Show him love and affection, especially during hard times.
- Meet with the psychologist before your son does. This will allow you to assess whether your son will be comfortable with her.
- Question the psychologist about her credentials, experience, and make sure she is licensed to practice in your state.
- Keep in mind that psychologists do not prescribe medication.
- Do not trick or deceive your son into seeing a psychologist under false pretenses. This makes both you and the psychologist appear suspicious and untrustworthy, and he will be even more reluctant to enter therapy.
- Do not nag or make empty threats. This can only alienate him.
- Do not apologize for bringing up therapy as an option. Though your son might become angry or offended, you should never apologize for trying to help him.
- Psychotherapy.net: Madeline Levine on Psychotherapy with Adolescents
- KidsHealth.org: Taking Your Child to a Therapist
- KidsHealth.org: What If I Don't Feel Comfortable With My Therapist?
- Jill Crawford Counseling: Getting Your Resistant Child into Counseling
- Education.com: Think Your Teen Needs Counseling?
- Bentham Science: Keeping It Real: Overcoming Resistance in Adolescent Males Mandated into Treatment
- GoodTherapy.org: Men's Issues
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