Author: Nathalie Parent, psychologist
Is your teen beginning psychotherapy and you’re wondering about the right behaviour to adopt during their treatment? What’s the right tone to use? The right distance to take? Here are some useful tips to allow your teen to be treated effectively.
Give your teen plenty of space to express themselves
Depending on your teen’s age and level of autonomy and independence from you, psychotherapy can be done with your teen alone.
If you must be present during the sessions, it would be ideal to let your teen speak and to only speak yourself to add or complete elements.
To do this, check that your teen agrees with your statements with phrases like:
- “If you’ll allow me, I’d like to add…”
- “Do you remember, you told me the last time that …?”
This way, you allow your teen to have their own space and their own session.
However, don’t stop yourself from expressing your point of view
Sometimes, it can be useful to bring your own perspective on the facts (a behaviour, a word, a gesture), but be sure to keep a nuanced tone so that this is not received as threatening or accusatory.
- You: “You’ve told me a few times that you felt like you were failing and that you’d rather play video games than study. Am I right?”
- Your teen: “That’s not what I meant, you don’t understand anything!”
- You, giving the benefit of the doubt: “It’s possible that I misunderstood.”
- The psychotherapist: “Would you like to talk about that and explain what you meant?”
Try to manage your anxiety
Talking about your emotions and worries can be a big help to your teen. So don’t hesitate to mention to the psychotherapist and to your teen that you’re concerned for X reason or worried about the consequences when you see your teen doing X thing.
But for the rest, it’s better to find a way to let go and manage your worries and your parental anxiety by consulting another psychotherapist, for example.
Try to maintain trust in your teen
In adolescence, young people need to have a space of their own apart from their parents, and sometimes also need to have their own “failures”, or rather, the consequences of their actions. This is what we call their “secret garden”. In this space, the parent doesn’t need to know what happens. It’s a place where the teen can experiment outside the parental space. Despite your worries, try to trust them and not to give in to the temptation to “snoop around” in their personal spaces (diary, drawers, online accounts, etc.).
The only exception: if you have a reasonable suspicion that your teen’s life or development may be in danger. However, do note that it is always preferable, in order to maintain a relationship of trust, that you inform your teen before taking action and checking.
When to end therapy?
When to end therapy depends on several factors. But let’s just say that the therapist will need to check how far your teen has come in relation to what brought them to therapy in the first place. For example: is there enough improvement at this moment in their life?
If your teen wants to stop having sessions, you can suggest that they talk to their psychotherapist about it and support them in the process.
Don’t forget, however, that your teen is like a chrysalis: you should help them fly with their own wings, not keep them in the cocoon.