A lot of parents and families struggle when it comes time to consider counseling. More often than not, the child is not interested in going to talk to someone; whereas, the parents often feel it is necessary. The following steps can help ease fears and frustrations over going to counseling once you have chosen a counselor and gotten an appointment scheduled.
Don’t Surprise Your Child With Counseling – Whenever possible, give your child a bit of runway to wrap their mind around the fact that they are going to counseling. At least a few days heads up is preferable. While it’s understandable that your kid may not be super excited at the prospect of talking to a complete stranger about difficult and sometimes painful topics. Springing the appointment on them is NOT advised. It starts things off on the wrong foot and makes the counselors job of connecting with an already-resistant-child that much more difficult. Sometimes that alone could be the difference between them connecting with the therapist.
Familiarize Them With Their Therapist – Show your child our website and the counselor that they will be working with. Each therapist was hand-picked and is very skilled at what they do. Our bios on the website are written to be as personable as possible so that clients feel they already know a bit about us before that first meeting. Some counselors may have an introductory video, blog post or podcast episode where you can learn a bit more about them.
Make The Unknown Known – A lot of people are afraid of the unknown. Often kids are afraid of going to the doctor’s or the dentist’s because of shots, metal hooks in their mouths, or other things they weren’t expecting. Sometimes kids have seen TV or movies where mental/behavioral health is pictured in a negative light (think Arkham Asylum from Batman’s Gotham City, big men in white coats who put you in a straight jacket, etc.). Share with them about this schedule of events:
-You’ll drive to the office and wait in the waiting room. Ours is self-service and doesn’t have an office administrator on site but we DO have toys and complimentary beverages.
-When it is time for your 50-minute appointment your therapist will come out and meet you and your child.
-All of you (parent/s and child) will go into the counselors office for your “initial intake appointment” (it’s a fancy way of saying – First Appointment) where the counselor will explain how counseling with them works and what to expect at appointments.
-The counselor will ask questions about their family, life at home, life at school and will slowly work their way towards why you all are there and how they can help. During these questions children are welcome to play, draw, write or just sit and talk with the therapist and parents (whichever makes them most comfortable).
-Towards the end of the session, the counselor may ask to meet just with the child for a few minutes or just with the parents (depending on what everyone is comfortable with).
-At the end, the counselor will collect a copy of the insurance card, photo ID and schedule next appointments as needed.
-At the very end every child will be given a puppy and an espresso! Just kidding! We wanted to make sure you were still reading; but, that would be pretty fun right?!
Explain The Consultation – The first session or two are viewed as a consultation to determine if the counselor is a good fit and if continuing to work with them will be beneficial. Talk with your child afterwards to process how it went and what they think of the counselor and continuing to work with them.
Explain Confidentiality – Helping your child understand what confidentiality is and that what you and your child talk about with the counselor is protected information can go a long way to putting them at ease. We want to make sure they understand that the counseling office is a safe place for them.
Be Your Kids Cheerleader – You can help counseling to be successful by giving positive affirmation and support to the child for their participation (for example, “you were really brave to talk about how you felt scared when someone bullied you at recess.”) Also, we often encourage parents to let their children know that counseling is an appropriate place to talk about private conversations that may not be appropriate to talk about at school or out in public.
DON’T Do These Things
– Don’t turn the counselor into the principal’s office. I.e. we do need to know a brief summary of why you’re all there; but, you don’t need to give us every detail right in front of them about how bad they’ve been or how their grades have plummeted, etc. You can email your counselor or call after the first appointment. Doing this can make counseling a negative experience right out of the gate.
– Don’t yell at them for not wanting to talk. Meeting someone for the first time can be stressful, especially if the child is shy or not happy about being there. Sometimes it takes kids a little longer to warm up and become comfortable. Sometimes children regress to more infantile behavior – talking like a baby, hiding behind their parent, talking only to their parent, etc.
– Don’t just drop your kid off and wait in the car while they go in all alone. It’s important for the counselor to meet everyone and collect observations on what’s happening in your child’s world. Sometimes the therapist will need to follow up with you to get more info.
– Don’t guilt or shame your child into being “ok” with people coming into the appointment if the child doesn’t want them there. The therapy office is designed to be a safe space for the child. Just because you want them to be “ok” with their siblings or your new husband/boyfriend coming in, doesn’t mean they are ok with it. We try to let them decide.
– Don’t threaten them with counseling – Counseling isn’t supposed to be a punishment. It’s supposed to help a person to deal with areas they may be struggling. Using it as a weapon or threatening to tell their counselor about their bad behavior can make counseling a negative experience.
We hope these tips are helpful. If there are other ways that we can help your child feel more comfortable about coming to counseling please don’t hesitate to talk with your counselor.