AUTHOR: Nathalie Parent, psychologist
The decision has been made: your teen will see a psychotherapist. Depending on their age and maturity, your teen can take the first steps in arranging the first session themselves, either by phone or email.
Note that some professionals prefer to talk over the phone before the first session to initiate the therapeutic relationship more concretely.
During this first exchange, the psychotherapist will discuss the technical arrangements with you: time, payment method and receipts, presence or absence of a parent at the first session, etc.
What happens at a first session?
During the first psychotherapy session, the professional will take stock of the situation and ask your teen what brings them to the office. Some psychotherapists will ask specific questions, while others will take a conversational approach, asking for precision as needed.
Since the first session is often emotionally charged, your teen can also reflect on:
- the story of what they want to talk about: beginning, context;
- the triggers, if applicable;
- family history: physical and mental illness;
- stressful events, particularly in the last year, but also since birth: separation, death, hospitalization of the young person or someone close to them, physical or psychological illness, past traumas, family drama, family secrets, breakups, alcoholism, violence, bullying, etc.;
- their social life: progress at school, their relationships with friends and teachers.
Don’t hesitate to ask your psychotherapist about:
- the number of sessions necessary,
- their frequency,
- session procedures,
- how confidentiality works during sessions.
All of your questions are perfectly legitimate and can be discussed with your psychotherapist.
About confidentiality of treatment
According to the law, starting at the age of 14, a young person can decide to consult a therapist without informing their parents. This can be done at school through a CLSC or via a phone helpline such as Tel-jeunes.
So that the teen feels comfortable enough to say everything they want to, the psychotherapist is also bound by professional secrecy, which means that they keep the content of sessions private. However, the therapist has a duty to inform parents if the life or development of the young person is in danger.
Finally, if it is agreed upon by the teen and their parents, the psychotherapist may inform parents of the progress of the therapy process after having agreed with the teen on the nature of the information to be given to parents.
Defusing prejudices about psychotherapy
If your teen has preconceived negative beliefs about psychotherapy:
“I’m not crazy!”
“I don’t need it!”
you can get them to talk about what they think to find out where these negative thoughts and false beliefs are coming from. Are they repeating what they’ve heard, or are they expressing hidden fears? You can also give examples of significant young people or adults who have seen a psychotherapist, to help them gain confidence in the process.
You can also talk about therapy by linking it to something that the teen likes: for an athlete, the therapist can be compared to a “coach”, who will work with the teen (in their emotions, behaviours, etc.). Why not make an analogy with the body? When your arm hurts, you go to a doctor or a physiotherapist—when you have a psychological problem, you see a psychologist.
Bad experience with a former psychotherapist: how to react?
In some cases, the teen may have had a negative experience with a therapist and feel apprehensive about the next one. The Ordre des psychologues1 is there to protect you in case of difficulties.
A therapeutic relationship must be built, and it’s only after a few sessions that we know whether it will work or not.
Why not tell the psychotherapist what didn’t work the last time, or what the teen didn’t like about the other person, in order to make adjustments?
Don’t hesitate to suggest that your teen read books to ensure better success of their treatment2.
 The “perso” collection from Éditions MidiTrente https://www.miditrente.ca/fr/categorie/12-ans-et-plus