Choices Are Empowering

What do you tell your child if you want them to begin therapy? It is likely that you have watched them go through some tough experiences and you want to make sure they have some extra resources to help them through it. First and foremost, you must demonstrate honesty with your child. That may look like "I have been worried about how this divorce has affected you and wanted to work with a professional to get some help and she asked me to bring you to talk about the issue." Or it may sound like "I have been worried about your grades and you don't seem motivated to do better.... I know part of the problem is the way that I handle things, so I called a counselor and he asked me to bring you." You always own the problem as it is what we call a "family systems" issue. it is imperative to be honest because you are asking your child to be honest with you.

Don't be surprised if you meet with resistance because your child is already feeling different and probably does not want to be identified as what we call "the identified patient."

Always give your child choices because this affords them some autonomy but also allows you to guide them in a direction that is helpful. Sometimes I have encouraged parents to tell their child that he will only have to meet with the therapist 5 times. This lets the child feel like he has some choice in the matter but also leaves the responsibility to the therapist to assess the child and decide how to relate with him and make him feel comfortable. Or I might tell the parents to explain to the child that during the initial evaluation all family members will be present but after the first session the child can determine whether to see the therapist alone or with his parents. Again, it becomes the therapist who will ask the child if she can occasionally involve the parents. I find that kids are much more amenable to do what the therapist asks as opposed to the parents.

This week I had a 15-year-old adolescent in my office whose parents had tricked him to get him into my office. They had told him that they were going out for lunch and had to make a quick stop before they had lunch. That quick stop was me. You can imagine his dismay when they stopped in the parking lot and informed him that they were coming in to talk to me about his depression.

As I walked them into the office I could feel the tension and sat down with them and assured him that I was sorry that his parents had not been honest with him and reminded him that they had his best interest at heart. His parents sheepishly admitted that if they had asked him to meet with me, he would have resisted. I quickly decided to give the teen back some power and after I got a brief history, I walked the parents out. Initially he said there was no way he would meet with me, but then he described his severe depression and I decided to give him a choice. I assured him I could arrange for him to meet another therapist who was a younger male. Although he thought about it, he decided to stick with me.

Never underestimate the value of choice!

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