You’ve done the hard work of finding a therapist who fits your troubled teen’s needs—at a residential treatment center like Shelterwood or in an outpatient setting. Now you want to do everything you can to support their healing. Here are five ways you can collaborate with your child’s therapist to promote a positive counseling experience.
- Check your shame. Were you taught by your own parents or culture that counseling was for the weak or broken? Any unexamined stigmas you might have against therapy can affect how you talk about it with your child. Work to keep shame out of your conversations about therapy: Talk about it openly and share your own or others’ positive experiences with counseling. Help your child understand that therapy isn’t a punishment or a “fix” for whatever is “wrong” with them—it’s a chance to grow, change and learn new tools for becoming who they want to be.
- Tell the whole story. In your first meetings with your child’s therapist, the goal is openness, honesty and rich context. The more you can share about your family, the better the therapist will be able to understand your child. Even though it might seem frustrating to delve into family histories when you want your teen to get help now, your therapist needs the big picture in order to treat your child. No one exists in a vacuum, and your teen’s network of family relationships is an important part of their story.
- Talk about expectations. Talk with the therapist about what your goals for your child are, knowing they might change as you and your teen progress on this journey. Ask about logistics: How often your child should go to sessions, what kind of activities they are likely to do at therapy, and whether there will be homework for them to complete outside of the office. Discuss in depth how you (and your partner and/or other caregivers) will be involved. Ask how long the therapy might take and how the therapist defines success. Beginning with a shared understanding will help you collaborate better when you hit plateaus or challenges down the road.
- Invest in the process. You provide an important source of insight into your child’s life, so don’t be afraid to share your observations with the therapist. If you have questions about a particular approach or conclusion, ask! Be curious, and stay open—especially to opportunities for family therapy that might arise. At Shelterwood, teen’s families have their own weekly therapy sessions, take part in the Family Bridge program, and eventually do joint sessions and visits together. Families also go on Family Retreat weekends that are designed to help parents and teens reconnect. “We don’t treat every family the same because no two families are alike,” says Shelterwood therapist Melissa Winston. “We create a lot of safety for families to be vulnerable, and we’re able to impact a lot of systemic change…which is critical.”
- Develop your support network. Therapy can be an intense process for both teens and their parents. Even though more and more families are seeking therapy, it can still feel like you’re the only parent going through it. We assure you, you’re not. Seek out support groups, online or in-person, that share your struggles, so you can stay strong for your child. At Shelterwood, families are encouraged to connect and support each other. “Families going through the journey with us can feel very isolated,” says Jane Lawrence, Shelterwood Registrar. “When they get to meet other families going through similar things, it is encouraging.”
Is your teen in need of innovative, research-backed therapy with the goal of true heart change? Shelterwood can help. Schedule a call with one of our admissions counselors to find out more.
“How to Work Well with Your Child’s Therapist,” by Julia Johnson Attaway. Childmind.org. Accessed 20 January 2020.
“What to Expect from Your Child’s Therapist.” CARES: UCLA Center for Child Anxiety Resilience Education and Support. Accessed 20 January 2020.
“Talking to Kids About Therapy,” by Barrie Sueskind. L.A. Parent. 21 December 2015.