Q: My teen is going through some tough times now and I've suggested that she see a therapist, but my daughter is reluctant. How do I convince her there is no stigma to seeking mental health care?
A: A lot of teens do not like to go see a counselor initially. They often have two concerns: privacy and feeling different from others. You can reassure her that a counselor is for her and will keep confidential what is discussed unless she is going to hurt herself or someone else. Also a lot of her peers may have seen or be seeing a counselor and no one else knows this.
Going to a counselor does not mean one is crazy, has to go a long time or has major insoluble issues. Most people, including teens and adults, would benefit from talking to a trusted trained therapist at some point in their lives. A counselor can give that third-party support and guidance that a parent or adult relative just cannot do, as they are part of the family and the teenager feels she may not be fully open.
It is normal for a teenager to seem to grow apart and try on different ways of thinking and acting than their immediate family. However studies still show that parents have more influence on their grown children than any other adult or friends.
Openly and calmly talking with your daughter about the situation can help calm her concerns of seeking mental health care. Sometimes teens perceive a stigma that really isn't there, creating feelings of shame and internalized self-blame. Point out that the reality of the situation is the majority of people seeking out mental health therapy lead full, promising, more enriched lives. Often, exercise, diet, behavioral and thought changes are very helpful, and medication from a medical provider is not needed.
It may take a while to get your daughter comfortable with the idea of seeing a therapist, but it's likely that as she works through her tough times, she will soon recognize the wonderful benefits, short- and long-term, that counseling provides.
Dr. John Heise, Children's Hospital at Erlanger; member, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society