How do you encourage a teenager to go to counselling?

My teenaged son is having some problems, and our doctor has recommended counselling. The problem is that my son is refusing to go and says that he doesn’t need a “shrink.” Do you have any suggestion for how I can get him to go?

Question: My teenaged son is having some problems, and our doctor has recommended counselling. The problem is that my son is refusing to go and says that he doesn’t need a “shrink.” I think that talking to someone would help him. Do you have any suggestion for how I can get him to go?

Answer: When you think about it, going to talk to a perfect stranger about things that may be painful or embarrassing is a pretty big deal. Young people with whom I have talked about going to counselling for the first time have said that they worried about things like not knowing what to say, having the counsellor “read their mind” or pester them with questions, and feeling like they have lost control of their problem. These are all very legitimate concerns, and I think a few adults worry about these things as well.

Before I offer some suggestions I think it is important to acknowledge that counselling in your son’s situation is voluntary. He needs to know that no one can make him talk to a counsellor, and that if he decides to give it a try, it will be up to him whether or not he continues. In addition, it will be up to him to decide what he wants to talk about. As a counsellor I can only help a person deal with the issues they present to me, and I most certainly cannot read minds!

Since I don’t know exactly what your son’s concerns are about going to see a counsellor, I will offer some suggestions based on the experiences of other families. First of all you, can give your son some choices such as seeing a male or a female counsellor and choosing the time of day he would like to make appointments.

As well, most counsellors will offer a short, free consultation designed to allow potential clients to decide whether or not they think the counsellor is a good fit for them. Your son may be more willing to try counselling if he can make some of his own choices.

Your son may also be interested to know that many counsellors who work with youth offer activities other than just sitting and talking. At my office, for example, we often play board games, go for walks, or use computer programs as we work with teens on their issues. These activities can make the process feel more natural and comfortable.

If your son is worried about friends finding out that he is in counselling you can assure him that it is confidential. His counsellor will not talk about him with anyone else, and will explain the rules about confidentiality to him during the first meeting. Some counselling offices even have back doors and clients who do not want to be seen entering the building can be met at this door.

I hope some of these suggestions are useful to you as you talk with you son about seeing a counsellor.

If you would like to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, please e-mail us at askpacific@shaw.ca or fax the Record at 250-338-5568 or write to us c/o the Record. Consult a Counsellor is provided by Registered Clinical Counsellors at pacific therapy & consulting inc.: Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Karen Turner. It appears every second Friday in the Record.

 

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