Do your homework

Find a psychologist or counsellor online or through a recommendation. Try to check out her website or profile, read her blog, or have a brief phone conversation. You may want to book a session to discuss the issue, and to get to know the counsellor. You may also get some direction and support.

How do I choose a therapist?

Trust your gut.You should like the counsellor, or at least feel comfortable with her manner and her approach. She might not be someone you would choose to befriend, but you should have some rapport, enough to work together on a professional level. Does the therapist seem to listen and understand what you are saying? Does she communicate well? Is she respectful? Did you get the answers you were looking for? Does she like teenagers? Will your teenager like and respect her?

Be honest

Don’t turn it into an ambush. Deception typically backfires. Have a conversation with your teen about counselling ahead of time.

When should I talk to my teenager about meeting with a counsellor?

Choose an appropriate time. Timing is everything. When is your teen most likely to be receptive and calm?

How should I act?

Be calm and matter of fact. This is essential. He may get upset, he may even refuse to go when you first broach the topic. If you get emotional and act as though this is something he is doing for you, it may backfire.

Let him know that you are concerned, but unless this is a safety issue, don’t be overly serious. You don’t want to give him the impression that you think something is wrong with him.

What should I say?

State the problem or issue and the need for some support for you and your child to address it together. Talk about getting some strategies, tools, or new ideas. Emphasize the benefits, such as coping with difficult emotions, adjusting to a new environment, figuring out a peer or sibling issue, handling a school problem, reducing conflict in the home, managing anxiety, or getting used to the idea of a separation or divorce. Don’t make it sound like a punishment, even if it is the result of a behavioural concern at home or school.

Give your teen the opportunity to voice her concerns.

She may be nervous. She may have seen some negative or confusing images of therapists on TV. Perhaps she thinks that seeing a psychologist means that there is something wrong with her. It is possible that she believes there is a stigma attached to seeking the advice of a mental health professional. These are normal fears. Help her to work through them.

Is there anything that I can do to make the process go smoothly?

Be mindful of your teen’s schedule. If he has to miss a favourite class, a birthday party, or a team sport to attend a counselling session, he is unlikely to be cooperative

Ensure that he is hydrated and fed. Having a snack or stopping for lunch on an early dismissal day may help him to feel relaxed and focused.

You may want to plan something fun after the session, so that your teen has something to look forward to. No need for a bribe, just have a plan, or allow him to make a plan. It can be low-key. Knowing that you will have some one-on-one time with you, or time with his friends, or his favourite meal may help to alleviate some of his stress.

What do I do if my teen refuses to cooperate?

Sometimes a new situation can cause anxiety. Your teenager may seem disrespectful or angry at or before the session. Try not to react. Be empathetic. Say something like, “I know you are probably stressed about this meeting, but I am going to be with you.”If she refuses to talk at first, you can talk to the therapist while she relaxes. She can still benefit, and it may be an opportunity for her to realize that it is a nonthreatening situation. Most therapists can work through this, and are able to engage the teen eventually. The therapist may give her the option of meeting on her own after the initial greeting and paperwork signing. Some teenagers warm up slowly, and the second session is usually better than the first. Meeting a new adult to discuss personal matters can be intimidating for a teenager.

If your teen refuses to leave the waiting room to enter the meeting, go ahead and meet with the psychologist on your own without causing a scene or arguing with her. You may benefit from the consultation, and it is possible that she may accept the psychologist’s invitation to enter the therapy room after a few minutes have passed.

Remember that your goal is to help, and let that shape your response to your child’s behaviour.

Try to control your frustration, and don’t put too much pressure on this experience. The manner in which your teenager begins therapy is important in terms of the eventual outcome. A negative first experience with therapy will make your teen less likely to return to this therapist or any therapist in the future. Maintaining your relationship with your child and helping him to get comfortable with counselling on his own terms is more important than perfect compliance.

Tara-Anne Powell, M.A., Registered Psychologist