The teen years are often a time of self-doubt and low self-esteem. During this time, children are honing their identities and finding their place among their peers and in the larger world. Adolescence is also the age during which mental health conditions often first appear.
In these cases, teen therapy can be highly beneficial. Mental health treatment provides a safe and structured environment where teens can examine their own needs and question their assumptions about who they are, what they need and what they hope to accomplish. Parents can play a critical role in helping them develop a strong and confident self-image in teen therapy sessions.
Parents’ Unique Place in Therapy
Parents may hold the key to helping teens manage mental health problems or substance abuse issues. There has traditionally been some confusion about what level of involvement parents should have during therapy.
Psychologists often felt parents spent too much time and energy defending their parenting, rather than learning skills to understand their children and help them to manage their problems.1 However, new research about the power of the family unit and its ability to support teens who are dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues brings parents into the center of counseling, where their influence can be used to help teens find the support they need.
Parents as Partners in Teen Therapy
Therapists find that many benefits accrue from enlisting parents as partners in the therapy process. Parents often have a number of issues in regard to understanding the internal life of their child. Unfortunately, they often bring feelings of failure or underestimation of their role in the teen’s life to counseling sessions.
Marital problems can also have an impact on parenting, and any conflicts between the parents should be dealt with in therapy. These issues can be managed in treatment sessions, allowing parents to feel confident about their role in their teen’s life. In turn, teens acquire a neutral space where they can voice their concerns about their need for more independence and support for their changing roles in life.
Developing Mutual Understanding
In many cases, parents have a difficult time dealing with the concept of mental health itself. Parents may have outdated ideas of what a mental health issue means, and they may even feel defensive about their child having a condition that requires treatment.
Helping parents to overcome any preconceived ideas about mental health problems or substance abuse is often a critical step in helping to create an appropriate support system for the teen. Parents may express concerns about financial burdens and potential effectiveness of teen therapy.
It can be helpful to present therapy as a positive experience that will enhance the teen’s ability to develop personally and improve the family relationship for all. Clearly defining both the underlying problem and the goals to be achieved can be a helpful measure in securing their involvement. In addition, the therapist must assure all parties of appropriate confidentiality and privacy.1 When these issues are addressed, parental involvement can be a successful component of the therapeutic process.
Professional therapy can create an environment of trust and mutual support. During this time of self-examination, parents must be ready to provide meaningful support and hold their preconceived ideas at bay while the teen explores new concepts for themselves, their relationships and their social environment.