In my work with parents of teenagers who have anxiety and depression, I’m often asked these questions:
My teenager is going to counselling.
Is this a good thing?
How do I get them to talk to me about their session?
What can I do to make it really worthwhile?
First of all I want to say
“Congratulations, you are one proactive parent getting them into counselling.”
And then I also would like to add; there are lots of ways you can help.
One: Make sure the appointments are at a time that is convenient for your teenager – we all know teens aren’t their sparkly best first thing in the morning (and this is especially relevant if they are depressed) so think about their state of mind when you make the appointment.
Two: Write it on the calendar where everyone can see it and it’s not likely to be forgotten or overlooked in the busyness of a busy family.
Third: Remind them the night before and talk to them supportively about their feelings. It’s okay to be a bit nervous about sharing your feelings with a stranger. Ask them if they have an idea of what they’d like to talk about when they get to the session. You may get a shrug and a “don’t know” in return, and that’s ok. You have planted the seed in their mind which will make the counselling session more productive.
Four: Monitor your own state as you drop them off. Verbalise the session going well and talk it through with your teen before the session. It might sound like, “I know you’ll have a useful session. Talk about the things that are bothering you the most. I’ll be waiting for you (insert place) and we’ll go for a walk/get a hot chocolate/buy an ice-cream on the way home.” Then drop and go with an “I love you” and a minimum of fuss.
Five: Let their counselling sessions be their counselling session. Pouncing on your teen and demanding to know what they talked about isn’t a helpful strategy. You can say something like, “Was that a helpful session?” and then leave it. You’ll get a far better conversation if a day or two later you follow up with, “Is there anything from your session you’d like to talk to me about?” Asking this question while it’s just the two of you in the car is perfect.
Six: Book yourself into a joint session every four to six sessions. That way you’re on the same page as your teen and your counsellor and you can follow up with strategies at home. After all, your teenager sees their counsellor for an hour a month; you see your teenager a lot more than that which puts you in the perfect position to use those impromptu life lessons as an extension of their counselling session.
You may have found it difficult to accept your teenager’s need for counselling and see it as a poor reflection of you as a parent. Let’s reframe that right now. By realising the need for counselling and actively supporting your teenager in the process you are being a proactive parent.
By booking them into counselling, you are sending your teen several important messages:
You see them, you notice them, you love them.
They don’t have to be stuck in their anxiety or depression.
You want them to get better.
Asking for help is a sign of strength and trust.
Your teenager will move through this stage in their life. They will get better. Your support and belief in them means the world to them and is a key factor in their recovery.
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