So, your young person doesn’t want to go to counselling? You are faced with the challenge of convincing them it’s a good idea. At this point you’re probably feeling like it’s going to be as difficult as selling ice to an Eskimo. Your young person may be saying that they don’t want to talk to anyone, that there isn’t a problem or that it won’t help anyway. These are challenging mindsets to get through.
STEP 1: Introduce them to counselling.
Here are some different ways you can present counselling to young people. You may like to:
- Show that you genuinely care – We are really concerned about you and we wouldn’t be doing our job as your parents if we weren’t going to get some extra help.
- Give them a manageable time to commit to – I really believe this can really help us. I want you to give this a go for three weeks and if you don’t like it after that you don’t have to go back.
- Identify the problem as a family problem – This isn’t just about you. This is a family issue that we all have to take responsibility for. We will be getting help to.
- Appeal to their sense of compassion – Would you go to counselling for me? Sometimes it is easier to do something for someone else rather than do it for yourself.
- Simply be the parent – There are some decisions we have to make as your parents. This is an adult decision that I need to make for you. I want you to trust that I know what is best for you.
- Try to normalise it – Everyone needs support from time to time. It’s actually really normal. Who are some famous people or family friends who have been to counselling or are going through similar problems?
STEP 2: Directly ask for their commitment to attend.
- Don’t make an appointment without discussing it with them first.
- Don’t hide the appointment and spring it on them at the last minute.
- Directly ask them for their commitment to attend. Young people are sensitive to controlling language so you may want to frame your words, tone and body language carefully. Suggestions include: “Would you be ok if make an appointment for you?” or “When would you like me to make an appointment?”
STEP 3: Prepare them for the appointment. Address pre-conceived ideas or any anxiety about going to counselling. You may want to:
- Show them the Youth Excel website. They may want to choose their practitioner.
- Address their concerns. Think about: What are they imagining counselling to be like? Do they think they will be interrogated? Will they be asked to talk about things they don’t want to talk about? Are they worried about not knowing what to say or having to sit still for a long time?
- Reassure them that the counsellor will ask them questions. They don’t have to work out what to say beforehand and they will not have to answer anything they don’t want to.
- Don’t over talk about counselling. Be sensitive to their stress levels.
- Give them the option of having you attend the first session to support them.
- Plan to do something fun together after the appointment so the focus is not all on going to counselling.
STEP 4: Have a plan for the day of the appointment:
- Leave half an hour earlier than you normally would for an appointment. Rush produces stress.
- If you see them struggling, reinforce why you are going to counselling. Be firm and clear, but don’t push things to the point of explosion.
- If they refuse to attend, come to the session on your own. If there are two parents it is ideal you both attend.
- Remember that young people learn whether they will like counselling or not by your reaction to it. Be positive about the process when you arrive home and invite discussion about it.
- If appropriate, your counsellor will text your young person during your session in order to touch base with them.
- Be reassured, we can integrate them as we go.
Michelle Mitchell, teen expert
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