When you should not make a child go for therapy.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Children Playing.

Children Playing.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Forcing your child to therapy.

There are times when no matter how firmly you believe that there is something the matter with your child you are making a mistake forcing them to go for therapy.

Most of these reasons fall under the heading of they are thinking or doing something you do not approve of and you want them to go for therapy to convince them to see things your way.

In a previous post, I wrote about the practical aspects of “Can you force a child to go for therapy.” The older they get the harder it gets to make them do much of anything. By 17 or 18, they either agree with you or not. You can get them to follow your rules but not to agree with your views.

There are a few things that are so important that whether a child or an adult wants to go they will be required to go for counseling. Suicidal actions are one reason. Drug use that results in illegal behavior is another. If your child’s life is at stake the need help whether they want it or not.

If a child has been abused or there has been violence in the family, therapy may be offered and sometimes it may be required.

In yesterday’s post we looked at some of the times you need to be a parent and insist your child see someone professional.

But there are times when you really wish your child would change. You know they are going to ruin their life and still, you should not make them go for therapy.

Here are some of these reasons. (Tongue-in-cheek so as to offend no one or everyone.)

Your child favors a political party you think is evil.

Some parents are frightened when their love child comes home spouting Republican doctrine. Sorry folks, the sixties are over and we have to make peace with the Republicans. Regardless of your political leanings, a therapist should not be trying to force a child to agree with their parent’s political leanings.

Political indoctrination is something that is practiced in totalitarian countries. We therapist-types have codes of ethics that keep us or should keep us, from trying to force people to change these sorts of beliefs.

Your child has picked a girlfriend or boyfriend and you are sure this person will ruin their life.

It is unlikely that any therapist can talk your love-sick teen out of loving the one they are madly in lust for just now. What we might be able to do is help them learn about healthy and unhealthy relationships and then if they begin to show some doubts explore those doubts and what they are learning.

This bad-person-for-you problem is often coupled with that person your child fell in love with being a member of the wrong race or religion.

There is a difference between an unhealthy relationship and getting together with someone who is different from you.

What we need to be able to do is help children see the possible negatives as well and possibly convince them to make no irrevocable changes like getting pregnant or running off to Antarctica.

Your child rejects your religion or adopts one you do not agree with.

You are firmly convinced the way to salvation is to shave your head, wear robes, and spend your days handing out flowers in the airport. Your child decides to grow out their hair, discard the robe and become a Lutheran.

Please do not look for a counselor who advertises that he specializes in getting apostate robe wears back to the airport.

Counselors, most of us, would consider this sort of practice as unethical. This even includes counselors who self-identify as being of the religion in question.

What a “Robed-Bare-headed-flower-airport child” Therapist would be willing to do is work with this child on their spiritual doubts, what do they believe, and why. What we should not do is collude with the parents to convert this child back to wearing their robes.

The parent of this child becomes upset when I tell them I will not help them convince their child they are following the wrong religion.

“Those Lutherans are a cult” that parent says. Maybe so. Maybe all Christians are cult followers, but that still does not justify me ganging up on that child and forcing them back into the robes.

Aren’t there some cults that can harm people and that we need to help children avoid? Probably so. My way of seeing this is that if the group seems to be taking a departure from reality then I think some good old fashion reality testing therapy is in order.

What kind of cults are a problem?

If the group bases their practices on unquestioning devotion to a living leader then I get really worried. Try to live up to the ideals of Buddha or Jesus; I’m good with those kinds of faith. Turn your will and your life over to the control of William Bernard Esquire III and you are getting me worried. That rule about having living leaders who think too much of themselves applies also to groups that give one or a very few people the right to decide what the dead leader meant.

Then again that worry about one person misinterpreting scripture may just be a part of my protestant hangover showing.

If this leader starts telling you to do things that are illegal or most people think is harmful be very suspicious.

This post has gotten a tad more sarcastic than most but I hope you get my point. Therapy should not be a way of trying to get children to change their thinking and agree with the parent’s preferences, even deeply held preferences.

Part of growing up is trying new things, new behaviors, and new beliefs. Kids need to take some risks to grow up and parents can’t protect them from everything.

What you can do is try to help them when they fall and scrape their knees. Sometimes you have to bear the brunt of the pain and hope they will eventually get it, but that is part of the parent’s job.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

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Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

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6 thoughts on “When you should not make a child go for therapy.

  1. Pingback: When should you force a child to go to therapy? | counselorssoapbox

  2. I MUST convince my teen daughter to try yet another therapist. I read that physically forcing is not productive, but what else is there? How about restricting access to phone, computer, tv, etc? She has been refusing school for almost two years, and we’ve been homeschooling while desperately trying to find a medication or therapist that works.


    • The first thing I would want to find out is why she is refusing school. Was she being teased? Does she has social anxiety? Or does she just not want to do anything with her life? You said she was a teen but not what age. At 18 she needs to get out and find a job unless you plan to support her the rest of her life. Then what happens when you are gone? Ask yourself does she have friends? Does she go out to be with them? Absolutely you can take things away from her. All you need to give her are food shelter and an opportunity for an education. My thought is that you need to go to counseling for yourself to learn the tools to alter her behavior or to be strong enough to create some boundaries with her. Hope that brief response helps somehow.


      • Thank you for your response, Dr. Miller. My daughter was 13 when this all started and is 15 now. We have always been well aware of her friend situation and, along with counselors at school, tried to figure out what was REALLY going on to upset her so much. The school made all sorts of accommodations to make her more comfortable to no avail. This was after we used incentives, removal of privileges, etc. Those efforts, along with her therapist, kept her in school for a year longer than she would have been without them. At the end of 8th grade, halfway through which is when she “could not” go to school anymore, we had to move from NY to TN. Once here we hoped she could make a fresh start, but that hasn’t really happened. She is now being homeschooled and participating as much as possible in the homeschool co-op. With everything, including therapists, she seems to start out OK, but as soon as she doesn’t feel as comfortable as she seems to think she should, she starts actually having physical symptoms like eyes puffing up that “keep” her from going. We don’t need counseling to figure out how to discipline—we’re plenty good at that especially because we have an older son who gave us a run for our money. We just want to do what is actually helpful and safe for the situation. Until now we have been a little afraid to restrict her privileges so much that she becomes depressed–unfortunately her only friendships at this point are online and although we fully know these friendships don’t replace face-to-face friendships, it is still hard to cut her off from her “friends” who “help” her. Right now, the situation is that either she goes to the new therapist and the coop, or her phone and computer will be taken away. If this becomes necessary we will push through and not give in even if she throws a fit or seems to get “depressed” (she did go through a period of cutting, so we need to watch for that). Then we will find out the true wisdom of removing her privileges. If there is any other advice anyone would like to offer, we’re always open to it.


      • Onset at age 13 really concern me. Onset of an anxiety disorder in idle school is associated with more serious anxiety disorders in adulthood. Cutting also is a concern. The hard part is finding someone she can relate to. Her belief that they can help her goes a long way to making that happen. Parents have a tough time with helping their children through these things and getting help for yourself can help you with your daughter. Eventually she will have to face this. The sooner you can help her venture pout and stretch her comfort zone the less adult problems she is likely to have. If anyone else out there has suggestions of things that have helped them or their children please feel free to add to this conversation.


  3. I desperately want my son to go for therapy but he refuses. He has been through more in his short life that is fair on any child but he doesn’t think he needs it. If you read my blog you will understand what I am talking about.


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