First of all, if your teen has agreed to see a therapist, that is great! Teens are often anxious about their first appointment, which is why I have written this blog for you. There are a few things that will be helpful for you to talk with them about before that first session.
1. Provide your teen with some background information about the therapist. If the therapist has an online presence, let your teen look at the therapist’s website, etc. Seeing the therapist’s picture often helps ease some angst. If possible, have your teen help you select the therapist. The relationship your teen develops with the therapist will be a critical factor in your teen’s ability to make change (in their life) with that therapist.
2. Review with your teen the reasons that they are going to therapy. Reinforce the fact that they are not going to therapy to be “fixed,” but rather to find some solutions. Partner with your teen around wanting to see them find solutions on any issues that they are struggling with. Your partnership will be helpful to them, but do not try to solve their problems for them. Therapy allows teens a private space to begin making their own decisions. Remind your teen of this, as it is developmentally appropriate for your teen to want to find solutions on their own. Teens want the control and the freedom to make decisions. Therapy is a place where they will have this control.
3. Have as much background information about the therapist for your teen as possible (Where is the therapist located? What kind of building is the therapist in? Does the therapist see other teenagers? How long are sessions? How often are sessions? When does the therapist work?, etc.).
5. Talk with your teen about what it is they want to get out of therapy. This is something that the therapist will ask at some point, and it is important for your teen to understand that therapy time is the teen’s private time to work on whatever they want to work on. Setting goals at the beginning of therapy will help the therapist make plans to help your teen better. If your teen does not know what they want to get out of therapy, their first few sessions will likely be spent talking about what changes they want to see in their life. Even if your teen cannot answer you 100% during this conversation, ask your teen to think about it so they are able to answer when the therapist asks.
6. Inform your teen what therapy IS and what therapy IS NOT. Therapists are not magicians. Therapists cannot read minds. Therapists are there to guide your teen and help them figure out areas that are causing them pain. Therapists can help your teen figure out issues they might have in relationships, school, with friends. Therapists will not “cure” your teen; your teen has to do the work in therapy in order to see changes in the world. This is an important item, because I believe that therapy is confusing for people who have never been to therapy. Therapists do not have a prescription to make things better.
7. Assuming your teen doesn’t HATE the therapist (after meeting them for the first time), inform your teen that they need to try a few (3 to 5) sessions with the therapist. Teens can be impulsive and sometimes want to fire therapists immediately. Give the therapist a few sessions to see if the relationship can develop.
Let me know how the conversation with your teen goes! Is there anything that came up in your conversation that I missed here? Please share your thoughts about this post as this is an important conversation that parents often need to have with teens.