When your teenager is struggling, you naturally want to do everything that you can to help them. For many teens with ADHD, that means working with a therapist as part of their treatment plan. But what can do you do as a parent if you know that your teen needs therapy, but they refuse to attend sessions? How can you get them the help they need if you can’t even get them into the therapist’s office in the first place?
It’s very common for teenagers with ADHD (and teenagers without ADHD for that matter) to be resistant to the idea of working with a therapist. There isn’t usually one single factor driving the resistance, and the underlying reasons vary from teen to teen, but there are usually some similar themes. For starters, some teens are generally opposed to anything that they perceive as being their parents’ idea. They want to be in control of their own decisions, and they certainly don’t want to do something just because their parents tell them it’s in their best interest. For teens with ADHD who have a history of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, this reason alone may be why they are refusing treatment. Other teens don’t want to meet with a therapist because they have misconceptions about what therapy is, or they view therapy as a sign that there is “something wrong with them.” While this line of reasoning may not be accurate, it can be hard for parents to convince their teen to change their point of view. Lastly, there are some teens who worry that the therapist won’t be able to help them and sessions will be a waste of time, and others who fear feeling uncomfortable in sessions if they are asked to discuss things they would rather avoid.
So, as a parent, what should you do? With any one of the scenarios above, how do you convince your teen to go to therapy? And if you succeed in getting them to see a therapist, how do you make sure that your teen will cooperate once they are in the session? There is no easy one-size-fits-all solution here, but there are a few strategies that may help.
When you succeed in getting your child to attend therapy sessions, try not to worry too much about how they behave once they are actually in the room. It can be frustrating to think that your teen may be “wasting” valuable time and money by not giving 100%, but as a parent, there really isn’t much you can do to control what your teen does during therapy sessions. Fortunately, good therapists who have experience with adolescents can form close bonds with even the most resistant teens. The best thing you can do as a parent is research therapists ahead of time and find one who seems like they will be a good fit for your teen. If, after a couple of months, the therapist and teen tell you that your teen isn’t participating in sessions, then it may be time to look for a new therapist. In the meantime, do what you can to get your teenager into the therapist’s office, and then let the therapist take the lead from there.
Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.
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