One of the most common challenges I encounter in my private practice is the stigma around mental health. Parents frequently struggle with how best to discuss therapy with their children. Maybe you are worried that your kid will refuse to go to therapy or that she will not engage with the therapist once she is in the session. Maybe a different member of the family is attending therapy, such as a spouse or a sibling, and your child is asking why these services are necessary. Conversations surrounding mental health are occurring more frequently than ever before. The good news is that there are concrete strategies that parents can use when talking with their children about mental health services.
- Confidentiality is crucial – Emphasize that therapy is a space for young patients to share their concerns with a trusted adult who will not tell them to others in the family. A key part of therapy is the therapeutic relationship. This is a relationship built on trust and a shared understanding that therapists are not going to reveal the content of therapy sessions to anyone outside of the therapy room. This means that if dad is in therapy, it is his private time to work on things that may be bothering him. The same is true if your child is the patient. Reassure your child that you agree with her having a trusted adult outside of the family to talk to and that you are not going to put pressure on the therapist to share the content of those sessions.
- The identified patient – Remind your child that just because he is going to therapy doesn’t mean he is the problem. Many times, young people are angry that they have to go to therapy because they feel that their parents or siblings have the issues, not them, so it should be someone else who goes to therapy. If this is how your child feels, he is not alone. He may very well be right. Many times, parents or siblings have their own issues that would be upsetting for any person to live with. Explain to your child that the beauty of therapy is that it is a space for him to talk to someone outside of your family unit about the exact problems impacting him. He will be the patient, but he has an opportunity to use this time to work through the family dynamics that are upsetting him. Hopefully, he will grow from the experience, even if he thinks someone else should have gone in his place.
- Going to therapy is really common these days – Ask your child the open-ended question, what are your thoughts on therapy? Do you think that going to therapy is weird? People often do not want to go to therapy because they think it is only for “crazy people” or individuals who have extreme emotional issues. We can decrease this fear by openly talking with them about how common therapy is among kids and how many celebrities are sharing their success stories to decrease stigma. A recent study completed by the S. Department of Health and Human Services found that in 2016, 3.6 million people aged 12-17 received mental health support from a psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Top well-known celebrities such as Selena Gomez are now openly discussing how therapy helped them. Share these facts with your kids to help them understand that therapy is common and helpful.
- Therapy is like a deep tissue massage for the soul – Equate going to therapy to a less stigmatized wellness activity such as sitting in a hot tub or getting a massage. Sigmund Freud referred to therapy as the talking cure. The idea is that if we can put our challenges into words and share them with another person, they will begin to be a bit easier to live with. It is a chance for kids to get their inner thoughts outside of their bodies instead of being stuck whirling around their heads. Therapy is also a time to learn coping skills that can help us to relax and perform better under stress.
- Mental health disorders among children and adolescents are common – Work to normalize mental health challenges. Teens and children may go to therapy because they have depression, anxiety, have experienced a traumatic event or a significant loss, or are going through many changes in their life. (Anyone struggling with adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic?) This is a major life change that your kids can relate to and that they can talk to a therapist about!) The CDC says that 1 out of every 6 children has a diagnosable mental health disorder. This number drops to 1 in 5 when kids are below the poverty level. One of my favorite sayings is “what’s shareable is bearable,” if your child is finding it hard to navigate life, there is a good chance that talking to a therapist can help.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
About the Author: Lauren Blackwood has been a practicing psychotherapist since 2014. Her practice, Blackwood Psychotherapy, is located in Washington, DC. She is dedicated to serving adults with anxiety, depression, and challenges with life transitions.
The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.
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