How Do You Help an Adolescent or Child Who Refuses Therapy?

Some children and teens are happy to go to therapy. They enjoy talking to an objective adult in a non-judgmental space who can assist with their problems. However, this is not the case for all adolescents. Enrolling their teen in counseling can feel like an impossible uphill battle for parents. This experience can leave them wondering, “Should I force my child to see a therapist?” “Can I reward my child if they go? Should I stop trying to convince them to go? 

If you have reason to believe your child has a behavioral disorder, mental health problem, or substance abuse problem, treatment is essential. There are several things you can do to help your teen get treatment. We’ve put together this helpful guide with suggestions for what to do when your teen refuses to go to counseling.


Explain what therapy is

Depending on your child’s age, they may not fully understand what a therapist does. There are many misconceptions surrounding the therapy process. Even when older children understand what a therapist is, their perception may be vague or clouded by stereotypes and what they have seen in the media (i.e., on television or social media). 

Start by explaining what a therapist is and what they do to help people in an age-appropriate manner. For example, tell younger children their counselor will talk with them and play with them, but they will not give them shots or medicine. Older kids benefit from learning about the confidentiality involved in their sessions.


Make them part of the process

It’s human nature to avoid what we do not want to do, and the idea of talking about our feelings to a stranger may not sound appealing to your teen – especially if they don’t think they need help. Whenever possible, your teen must have some input into their theraputic process. You can do this by offering different treatment options on which therapist to see and having them participate in the final decision. You can also encourage them to agree to try 3-4 sessions to see how they feel after attending. Making them a part of this process can empower them to seek change.

Should I force my child to see a therapist

Frame the conversation positively

Unfortunately, there is an unfair bias when seeking help for mental health. This stigmatism makes many people reluctant to seek treatment even when they know it will be beneficial. Explain to your teen that people go to therapists and child psychologists for the same reason they see their other doctors – because they want to feel better. 

You can even compare going to therapy to working with their coach. For example, if your child plays football, they understand that their coach teaches them new skills, new strategies, and different ways to succeed on the field. Their counselor will do the same thing for their mental health and how they engage with the world around them.


Can therapy work if the teen is fighting it?

When individuals are forced to attend treatment, they aren’t likely to become motivated to experience change. Therapy is most beneficial and productive when the participant is open to the experience. When teens don’t want to go to treatment, they may not be open to the idea of sharing their feelings. When they are dragged to their sessions, they are less likely to talk about their experiences.

You can start by making your teen attend at least a few sessions. Sometimes, an experienced therapist can help your adolescent feel comfortable. Other times, your child may feel embarrassed letting you know their therapy is helping. It’s important to note that there are times a teen may need treatment regardless of whether they agree. If they are engaging in risky behavior, treatment should be mandatory. If they are hurting others or themselves, seek immediate emergency treatment.

Common reasons why teens are resistant to therapy:

  • They don’t need therapy    
  • They don’t think they need help 
  • They feel ashamed of going   
  • They were not a part of the decision making process
  • They are scared of being vulnerable     
  • They are nervous about sharing their feelings and problems
  • They don’t think therapy will help
  • They are afraid their sessions won’t be confidential      
  • They don’t understand the point of going


Common reasons why teens are resistant to therapy


Find the right therapist

It’s essential to find a counselor who is a good fit for your child’s personality and specific mental health challenges. If they don’t like or respect the person they are working with or think they can outsmart their therapist; their sessions will not be productive or beneficial. If your teen has tried therapy in the past and didn’t find it helpful, or they don’t like working with their current therapist, ask them why. For example, what wasn’t helpful and what was? What did they like? These questions can help you move forward in a direction that will make your child feel more open to attending their sessions in the future.


Don’t give up

Important conversations aren’t typically settled in one conversation. Progress may come gradually. So don’t give up on the conversation. If your child says no the first time you talk about therapy, keep trying. It’s also important to continue listening to how your teen feels and what they think they need. Use the strategies above and try asking clinicians what they would recommend.

At BE Psychology, we understand the importance of creating a welcoming, judgment-free environment where our clients feel safe to discuss their feelings, concerns, and challenges. We work with children, teens, and families to help them achieve greater mental health and wellbeing. If your teen is reluctant to the idea of therapy, we can help. Our team of mental health professionals will work with you and your teen to ensure the right fit to get their treatment started off in the right direction.

Contact a member of our team to learn more.



reem shaheen counseling psychologist

Reem Shaheen – LMHC