How do you engage adolescents in counseling?

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

Unlike adults, adolescents don’t usually initiate counseling on their own. They are usually brought to counseling because their parents want them to change. So, how do you engage a teenager in the therapeutic process?  Fortunately, I find most teens are receptive to the idea of counseling and some are downright grateful for the opportunity. However, your child doesn’t need to be excited about or asking for counseling in order for it to be effective.

  • Understand it’s normal for your child to be ambivalent about counseling.
  • Normalize going to counseling as a healthy way to deal with stress and resolve problems.
  • Focus on seeking help as a strength rather than a weakness.
  • Listen to his/her feelings and concerns.
  • Give your child choices. If going to therapy is non-negotiable, perhaps your child can have a say in which counselor he/she sees.
  • Talk about whether he/she has friends who go to counseling.
  • Ask your child to try counseling for at least 3 sessions.
  • Consider other treatment options such as medication, different types of therapy (art therapy, CBT, group counseling,  etc) or a different counselor if your child is still not on board.
  • A skilled therapist will be able to help a teen identify goals and increase motivation for how counseling can help him/her reach these goals.


© Sharon Martin, LCSW

Sharon Martin, a licensed counselor and psychotherapist in Northern California, specializes in helping adult children of alcoholics and others who struggle with anxiety, perfectionism, and self-criticism. She has a private psychotherapy practice in CA where she is available for online counseling. Sharon is also the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and write the blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today.