When should you force a child to go to therapy?

By David Joel Miller

Sometimes you need to insist they get help.


Photo courtesy of Flickr (Steel Wool)

Parents seem to be concerned about when to force a child to go to therapy. Making children go for counseling shows up in search terms to counselorssoapbox.com from time to time. This is an important topic.

In a previous post, I wrote about “Can you force your child to come for therapy.”  Parents know that forcing a child to do almost anything is difficult to do. Sometimes you need to enforce rules and decisions and sometimes the battle is not worth the effort. When it comes to getting your child into therapy which is which?

Most of the Can you force a child to go to therapy post was about the practical problems of coercing someone to go for therapy. Therapy works best when the person in session wants to be there. Sometimes they only “want to be there” because their parents or their parole agent made them come. Either way, if they have some incentive it increases the chances therapy will work.

There are times when you the parent are worried about your child, you can offer to get them therapy but “forcing” the child can make things worse. In a future post, I want to tell you about those times you should resist the urge to force your child to see a therapist.

We also need to look at when, for what problems, parents should be so worried, so concerned that they absolutely insist their child see a counselor.

Here are some of the reasons to put your foot down and insist that your child sees a counselor other professionals outside the family. Families who have a good, open relationship, find their children will talk to them about more, but there are still those things that are just too embarrassing to tell mom or dad about.

Your child says they are suicidal.

Suicidal statements, talking about death or starting to say or acting like they do not want to live anymore are not something to ignore. Children of any age can and do commit suicide. Do not brush this off as just a ploy for attention. Kids get embarrassed and do not tell their parents the truth.

If there is any chance they will try to self-harm get them to go see a professional who can assess for the risk they will carry through on this thought. This is one area where kids will often tell a professional the things they will not tell their parent.

If you suspect your child has been the victim of abuse, rape or molestation.

If you think this your emotions may run the gamut. You will be angry, fearful and just plain want justice. The danger here is that by questioning the child too hard you will scare them, and make them close up and stop talking.

You can also run the risk of asking the wrong questions or asking them in the wrong way and then thinking their answers mean something they did not mean. You can end up taking a wrong action. Repeated questioning can also make a young child think something must have happened even though they did not realize it and they will start “remembering” details to please you. You want the truth not a story made up to please you.

These sorts of problems need professional intervention and please let the authorities deal with identifying and punishing the person who may have done something to your child.

Asking for too many details about abuse can also make the child feel it was their fault. The last think you should do is to put the child through a second trauma when they are being interrogated about what has already happened.

You see evidence that they are becoming addicted to a drug.

The longer you wait to interrupt a substance use disorder the more likely it is to become a permanent addiction. Seek professional help.

This does not mean that if your child is smoking weed or drinking a few beers that there is someone who can lock them up to prevent them doing drugs.

In most areas, there is no way to detain a kid for very long even when the parents want them locked up. A few places may let you turn them in as incorrigible but the number of places that will do that is getting very small.

Watching a child full-time is a difficult job. If they are abusing substances keeping them locked up and away from drugs is a complicated task. The faculty can’t just hire anyone to do this and paying a professional of 24/7 treatment gets expensive.

For drug treatment, the most effective methods include involving the parent in the treatment. Most treatments are outpatient and the child comes home at night. If you want help with this problem you will need to be part of the solution.

Locking your child up will not take away the desire to do something. The second they get out they will run to do what you tried to keep them from doing. What they need is a “head change” not incarceration.

If there are sudden dramatic behavioral changes in your child.

If they are steeling, need money, cut classes or their grades suddenly drop through the floor, these are all warning signs. Look for help fast. Do not make the mistake of thinking they will “grow out of it.”

This may mean drugs, may mean depression or the beginnings of another mental illness or could just be a problem with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Either way once the changes are in play it may take the help of a counselor or therapist to find out what is going on and formulate a plan to help your child navigate these issues.

As hard as it may be there are sometimes you need to put your foot down, be the parent and get that child in to see a professional.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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One thought on “When should you force a child to go to therapy?

  1. Pingback: When you should not make a child go for therapy. | counselorssoapbox

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