The Truth About Kids and Therapy

My teenage son started therapy several months ago and it has been really great for him. Initially, it didn’t feel so great, though. It felt scary, foreign, and a little bit like failure. As parents, we want to be everything our kids need us to be for them, and when they need outside, professional help to thrive, it does not feel great. It is really important to lean into that discomfort, though, because that is actually the way you actually can be everything your kid needs you to be.

It takes courage to contact the pediatrician or to make a therapy appointment or to discuss the details of your life with a stranger, but it is so important to take those steps when your child needs it. If your child had an infection or broken bone, you likely wouldn’t feel responsible for it and you would seek out proper care immediately. Mental health care is just as urgent and important. Even when you know it is the right thing and you have taken the appropriate steps, it can still be a little bit frightening for both you and your child. It can also be hard to provide comfort to your child, if it is a new situation for both of you.

My son helped me come up with this list of things that he would tell his past self before starting therapy, so he could be a little bit more at ease. If you are facing this with your child, I hope it will be a comfort. 

It’s not as scary as you think.

Therapy is super intimidating. You already feel vulnerable, you are meeting a stranger for the first time, and you are going to talk about intimate things. My son felt like it was going to be like a doctor’s appointment where he would be analyzed and told what is wrong with him. It wasn’t like that. During his first visit, we both spoke with the therapist together for a bit {about family life, a bit about both of us, what he felt he was struggling with} and while it was a little uncomfortable for this introvert, it was not scary and it was worth the momentary discomfort. Once he realized that it was just talking with someone who was listening and neutral, he really started to look forward to it.

Going to therapy is not admitting defeat.

Going to therapy is the opposite of admitting defeat, it is bravely rising up to meet the challenges that want to overwhelm you. If you were drowning and someone threw you a buoy, grabbing it would not be admitting defeat. Therapy can be that buoy. Don’t be afraid to grab hold.

Therapy will give you skills to better handle problems.  

My son expected to hear a list of things that were wrong with him at therapy, but it has not been that way at all. They talk a lot about his life and he has learned new, healthier ways to process things that are challenging for him. Coping skills are essential for all of us, and therapy is one way to acquire these kinds of skills. 

It is more like talking with a friend than with Freud.  

The classic image of psychoanalysis that may pop into your head when you think of therapy has not been his experience. It feels much more like talking to a friend than to someone who is trying to peer inside the depths of your psyche. Unlike a friend, the therapist is trained in healthy coping skills and can help you learn more about yourself and equip you with the skills you need to be the best version of yourself. 

If your child is having a difficult time with depression or anxiety or any other mental health issue that therapy might help, I highly recommend talking to your pediatrician about it and moving forward with therapy if appropriate. It can be scary to make those first calls, but it is so worth it to watch your child become lighter and brighter and more fully themselves. I am so glad that my son was able to do the scary work of telling me that he was having a hard time and that we were brave enough to reach out for the support he needed together. 

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