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My Teenager Refuses to Go to Therapy: What Can I do?

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It can be a powerless feeling when you know your teen needs therapy, yet they refuse to go. Often at this stage, parents have tried everything they can think of to help, yet the teen continues to struggle. As parents, we have the life experience and can see where this road will lead for the teen if they do not get help.

Teens have been one of the hardest hit groups during the pandemic. Teen depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and other struggles have spiked. Substance abuse has increased among teens as they are trying to find a way to cope. We are hearing of more suicides among teens during the pandemic.

As a parent, watching as your teen struggles with these complicated issues yet refusing help can be heartbreaking. While there are teens that are reaching out to their parents asking to attend therapy, there are those teens who simply refuse the help.

Your teen knows that they are depressed. They may be experiencing anxiety or panic attacks. Substance use may be increasing during this time. Family relationships are strained and you know the teen can clearly see how unhappy they are and/or the impact it is having on the family.

So why aren't they willing to get help? What is the resistance about? It is helpful to start here and understand what some of the reasons are they may be reluctant to see a therapist.

Reasons Behind the Resistance or Refusal

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There are solutions to helping your teen see a therapist when at the time, they may be refusing. It is important to first take a look at the reasons why they may be refusing. A lot of the reluctance or declining to see a therapist has to do with the neurological, psychological, and stage of life they are in.

Teen Neurological Stage

Sometimes we can view teenagers as young adults. Yet, teenagers are much more like older children. Their brain is still developing and is in a rapid stage of development. Their frontal lobes where logical, analytical reasoning comes from will not fully develop until age 25 for boys and 21 for girls.

As adults, not only do we have the life experience in dealing with and managing difficult emotions, we also have a fully developed brain to put to the task.

Adults can analytically reason out potential causes of what we are feeling and where these feelings come from. We can reason strategies to cope with them and solutions in helping ourselves overcome the emotions. Our frontal lobe plot out strategies that we then can put into action and have the resources to get the help we need.

Teens are in the developmental stage of first really being able to tap into the frontal lobe. It's like getting new, complicated software for your computer. It takes time, trial and error, and sometimes someone who has used the software before to help us master the new software.

Teens may be experiencing these extremely complicated feelings and emotions for the first time. On top of this, they are learning to use a new software system (the frontal lobes) that when mastered, will help make sense of the complicated emotions. Yet, it takes time, practice, and patience to master the software.

It's not easy asking and accepting help when a teen doesn't fully understand what they are experiencing. They can feel a sense of hopelessness as their new software hasn't been able to plot a way out. This can also be due to the lack of life experience in using the software.

If a teen can't fully understand the experience, cannot figure a way out on their own, they may feel like there is no hope and no one can help. Why then talk to their parents or see a therapist if there is no hope or way out.

Teen Psychological Stage

For many an adult, we have years of practice related to experiencing and coping with complex, difficult emotions. Many have experienced bouts of depression. The anxiety over work performance and advancement is a common theme. We have learned through life experience to manage and cope with fear, worry, loss, sadness, and more.

As adults, we understand in large part where these feelings come from. We have learned to label the emotions and have strategies to cope with them while they are present. We also have the life experience to know that they won't last forever and will pass.

For teens, this may be the first time they are experiencing these complicated emotions. They may not fully understand what they are feeling and experiencing. They may not understand the cause of the feelings and what influences them. To effectively cope with them, one must know where they come from and what the influences them to create strategies to manage and cope with them.

Teens may not have the life experience to understand that often, these feelings can pass. As they may not understand what they are feeling, what causes and influences the feelings, and how to cope, a hopelessness can set in that they will ever go away. Teens often feel that nothing will help so, seeing a therapist is a "waste of time".

Teen's Stage of Life

The stage of life the teen is currently in has been interwoven throughout the previous sections. When you take the neurological stage and the psychological stage and throw on top of that the lack of life experience, it makes it difficult for some teens to ask for or accept help.

It is difficult to be a teen in today's world and teens are much better at hiding deep emotional problems today than in prior generations. This may be intentional or unintentional on their part, but it is a fact.

Much of the teen's social life is spent through text. Social media and other platforms create environments where parents miss out on much of the teen's interactions with their friends. There is little we can do about this as this is the new playground of our time. This is where teens go to hang out with their friends.

Before these platforms, parents could hear the conversations and interactions between their teens and their friends. Their behavioral interactions where observable by the parents. As a result, parents had a better finger on the pulse of their teens emotional health and wellbeing. This meant that parents could engage earlier to help their teens.

Today, the teen's behavioral interactions between the teen and their friends are through the written word. It is often when things become severe that the problem becomes noticeable. It can often be the case that the teen has been experiencing teen depression, anxiety, panic, etc. for a long period of time before parents become aware. Sometimes, parents become aware after finding evidence of substance abuse.

When we look at the impact of the pandemic, it can be difficult to see the effects as being traumatic. Yet, when our teens are isolated or separated from their friends, the world is increasingly unpredictable, fear of illness and death is frequently the topic, trauma therapy or PTSD treatment may be a necessary outcome. Teens who have already had traumatic experiences prior to the pandemic often are hardest hit due to the impacts and effects of the pandemic.

The longer the teen depression, anxiety, panic, substance abuse, trauma, PTSD, etc. exist, the more challenging it can be for the teen to ask for and accept help.

How to Help Motivate, the Currently, Unmotivated

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To start, this is where seeing a specialist in teen therapy and family counseling can make the difference. Therapists who have dedicated their career to teen counseling and family therapy have a significant advantage.

A therapist who works with only teens and families has helped teens in these situations far more than a therapist who works with clients of all ages. These specialists in teen therapy have learned strategies and have become effective in motivating teens.

It is not uncommon to come across an unmotivated teen. Many teens today come to therapy because they have requested to come. Yet, there is always a percentage of teens that attend therapy who do not want to be there. Yet they stay and take part in the therapy process.

Specialists in teen therapy and family counseling are those who can effectively connect with teens. They have learned approaches that can help teens increase their motivation and start to engage in therapy. They have learned how to meet with resistance and help the teen reduce their resistance towards therapy.

Let's cover some of the approaches and strategies that can help. The last strategy in this list is, most often, the most sure-fire way of getting a teen to attend therapy. We'll save the best for last!

Make It a 'We Thing' and Not a 'Me Thing'

May teens who have been struggling with complex emotional or behavioral problems feel like the 'problem child'. They may find themselves asking themselves, "what's wrong with me" or "I must be broken". When we approach them and ask if they would see a teen therapist, they can feel even more so like the problem child.

Keep in mind, teen depression, anxiety or other emotional struggles keep the teen in a negativistic mind set. The emotional mind will cause feelings that lead to thoughts about themselves that are often irrational.

These felt thoughts can make them believe that they are a strain on the family. That they are a disappointment and irredeemable. Irrational thoughts to be sure but the emotional mind doesn't operate on logic and reason.

If you approach your teen and propose that the family is struggling and that you would like to start family therapy this can help. It can lift a weight from the teen that they are the sole source of the problem and that it is now a 'We Thing' and not a 'Me Thing'.

If the Teen Won't Attend, Start with the Parents or Parents and Siblings

If we take the view that therapy is only for the teen, we are missing out on a huge opportunity to help. The family can be a powerful mechanism to help the teen during their unmotivated and resistant phase.

If the teen is refusing to attend therapy, then the parents start seeing the therapist without the teen. There are times where not only having the parents attend but the parents and siblings is helpful as well.

The teen therapist and family counselor can work with the parents and rest of the family to help them learn skills and tools to help the teen.

The teen counselor and family therapist can help the parents and siblings make sense of what the teen may be experiencing. The therapist can help fill in the blanks and provide the missing puzzle pieces to help the parents and siblings see the whole picture.

The teen therapist and family counselor can also work with the parents and rest of the family to help teach them skills and tools that can help them with their interactions with the teen.

The therapist can also help the parents learn approaches in interacting with the teen to help the teen start to improve in the home. Siblings can also learn skills and tools to help them to manage emotions that they may experience related to having a sibling who is struggling.

Often, and before too long, the end result is that if the parents or parents or parents and siblings are attending therapy, the teen will start to attend as well. They start to feel that they are missing out on something. They wonder what is being said in therapy and want to be a part of it. They may see the parents and siblings changing for the better and will start to see that seeing a teen therapist may actually help. It can give light and hope to a teen who may be sitting in emotional darkness.

The 'Nuclear Option': In-home Family Therapy

At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, one of the services that we provide is in-home family counseling. Because we specialize in teen therapy and family counseling, our experience has taught us that in-home family counseling must be an optional service we provide.

It is not uncommon that a teen may refuse to start attending therapy or to attend a particular therapy session. We know how important continuity of care is to help the teen and family continue to make consistent progress.

If the teen won't come to us, then we will come to the teen! In-home family therapy can be more effective as well than in-office family therapy. We get to be in your home environment where you and your family are most comfortable. This can result in the teen and your family feeling more comfortable to more fully take part in the therapy session.

For the purposes of this topic, it can eliminate the barrier of the teen refusing to attend therapy. There are times where the teen will still refuse to attend therapy in the home. But, I can assure you that they are listening to the session wherever they are at in the home.

If we continue in-home family therapy week after week, the teen will start to attend before too long. In the slim chance they choose not too attend, there is valuable work the therapist can do with the parents and siblings to help them manage and cope with the feelings they experience. The therapist can also continue to help them learn how to interact with the teen that can help the teen through the emotional or behavioral challenge they may be experiencing.

Katy Teen & Family Counseling:

Expertise Developed Through the Years in Specializing in Teen Therapy & Family Counseling

At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we have 30+ years of combined experience in providing teen therapy and family counseling. The owner and lead clinician has been providing teen therapy and family counseling since 2003.

We have the experience and expertise developed over the years to help your teen --whether motivated or lacking some motivation.

If you have a teen who is struggling, reach out to us and talk with one of our teen therapy and family counseling specialists. Let's talk about how we can help your teen and family restore hope, happiness, and connected family relationships.

If you would like to schedule an appointment, you can follow these three simple steps:

  1. Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling

  2. Speak with one of our specialists in teen therapy and family counseling

  3. Start working with and add an expert in teen therapy and family counseling to your family team

Other Teen Therapy & Family Counseling Services Offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling:

At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we provide a variety of teen counseling and family therapy approaches. Each teen and family are unique and we offer those therapy approaches that have been supported by research and shown to work.

Below are other therapy services that we offer our teens and families at Katy Teen & Family Counseling:

Peak performance (optimal academic brain performance)

Peak performance (optimal athletic brain performance)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

About the Author

Picture of Jason Drake, LCSW-S specialist in teen therapy and family counseling. Providing family therapy in katy, tx and gifted student katy, tx. Also providing teen therapy for talented teen athletes katy, tx.

Jason Drake is a Licensed Clinical Worker (LCSW). He has dedicated his career to providing therapy to teens and families starting in 2003. Through his years of experience, he is recognized as an expert and specialist in the field of teen therapy and family counseling.

Jason is a BCIA neurofeedback professional providing neurofeedback to teens struggling with emotional or behavioral struggles. Jason is also trained in EMDR which is a therapy approach that can help teens overcome difficulties in a short amount of time.

Over the years, Jason has helped teens who struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma, ADHD/ADD, substance abuse, and PTSD. He works with talented teen athletes overcome athletic/performance mental blocks. Gifted students have unique challenges that Jason understands well.

Jason uses CBT, EMDR, Neurofeedback, FFT, IFS, and Motivational Interviewing -- all supported by research and shown to be effective.

At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we are a resource for those looking for therapists who specialize in teen therapy and family counseling. We work effectively with unmotivated teens to help them resolving the struggles of today to help them have a successful tomorrow.

Give Jason a call or text or email today. He can answer any questions you may have and talk with you about how we can help your teen and family.


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