Myers Counseling Group



Myers Counseling Group

Counseling the whole person

Understanding Parent Role inTherapy for Adolescents

The dynamics for adolescents participating in counseling services is different than adults. Counselors need to be mindful of specific developmental issues that could factor into therapy. Motivation, insight, maturity, and life experiences are just not the same for adolescents as they are for adults. It is important for parents to have realistic expectations of what will take place in therapy and what role they themselves will play. A balance between respecting a child’s confidentiality, setting expectations and guidelines for the teen, and providing therapists with information that can be helpful in discussions, is difficult.

An important consideration to factor into this is that the human brain continues to develop into our mid 20’s. Expecting teenagers to have the same insight as adults is just not realistic. Neuro pathways (that is how messages are relayed from different parts of our brain) are also changing.  As our brain matures, it finds more efficient ways to relay messages from different parts of the brain. Having less efficient utilization of pathways does not lend itself to the same problem solving abilities as adults, who have more developed pathways. Add in life experiences and we have to modify expectations even more.  If a parent points a teenager in the direction of counseling, the adolescent’s motivation to change may be different because they just see things differently.

In order for mandated youth (encouraged to participate in therapy by parents, school, or courts) to invest in change, there needs to motivation.  Parent’s cannot assume the motivation is there because of their own perceptions of consequences that have befallen the youth. Keep in mind where kids are at developmentally. Parents may need to provide the motivation to change. Just coming to counseling and talking to therapists in of itself is not going to create change. The motivation or incentive to change may need to come from parent. If a teenager is violating curfew talking to a therapist to get him/her to change that behavior most likely will not be enough. Parents could provide consequences (grounding) which would motivate the child. The therapist could than assist and support the youth in making the necessary changes now that the youth is more invested in change.

The motivated youth is a different story.  Most times when these teens come into therapy, they see the need for something in their life to change. Investment in their treatment will be unlike the unmotivated youth. Allowing the youth to set the pace in disclosing information shared in session is important. If a youth feels information they share with will go right back to parents, trust between the therapist and teenager is broken. Regardless of how strong a relationship may be between parent and child, teens could find it helpful in turning to a neutral third party for guidance and support. Developmentally this is an age appropriate shift for them.

For a parent whose child is in therapy, it can be a challenge finding where to align yourself. Whether it be pulling back or setting parameters through consequences.  It could be helpful talking to the therapist and your child about what your role will be in his/her therapy.

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