Parents often call me for the first time and we talk for a bit about what’s going on and if I could be a good fit to help them help their son or daughter. The conversation will go pretty well and at the end sometimes they will say “this sounds great, however… I haven’t told my kid yet. I don’t know what to say so they don’t feel bad. I don’t want them to feel like there’s something wrong with them or they’re being marginalized. What should I say?”
This is a great question, and here’s what I usually suggest.
For Parents: Hey, so I know you don’t want to tell me everything in your life right now and that’s normal for the age you’re at. But it’s important to be able to think through things and process out loud with someone. I talked to this therapist that’s pretty young and is used to working with people your age, so she gets it. Would you be willing to meet her? Just to see what you think. When I talked to her, she said the most important factor of therapy being helpful, is your connection to the therapist. If you don’t like her after 1 or 2 sessions, you don’t have to go back. I’m not forcing you to go, just really encouraging you to try it. (<— This is really important. If they have been to a therapist in the past or are seeing someone right now that they don’t care for and aren’t attached to, I wouldn’t make them go. They aren’t likely to benefit from it and it might be better to let them watch Netflix and have 1 less weekly appointment.)
What I will say in session: I always ask how they felt about coming in and if they aren’t happy about it, I invite them to tell me as much as possible about how badly they don’t want to be here. In therapy, you only have to be honest, not nice to me. We’ll talk about that for awhile and I make a point to explain my approach in general. I don’t believe in “fixing” people. I’m not here to plot with mom and dad. This is you and me, not me and them. The idea is that we both be curious and get to know you, not just focus on what’s wrong. Who are you? What makes you tick? What do you think and wonder about? How does your experience shape you and are there parts about yourself that make you insecure? Therapy is about understanding and optimizing your life, not just fixing the negatives.