“Can you tell him to break up with his girlfriend? She’s toxic!” Agreed, I thought to myself. “No,” I said to my client’s parent. “I can’t do that.” As a psychotherapist for teens and families, it’s not unusual for me to hear this type of concern from the parent of a client.
As a parent of a teenager myself, my heart goes out to these well-meaning and concerned parents. Of course, they want their teen to be in a healthy dating relationship. Of course, they also understand they cannot control their teen’s behavior.
There are many things an adolescent therapist can do for their young clients, but parenting is not one of them, which is why this tops my list of “Things Your Teen’s Therapist Wants You to Know.”
This list is based on my 25+ years of clinical experience and 20 years of parenting. Though this list is not research-based, I can attest that these are common concerns for myself and my colleagues working with adolescents.
9 Things Your Teen’s Therapist Wants You to Know
1. I can’t tell your child what to do
Therapy is not advice-giving. I cannot tell your teen what to do or not do. I can work with my client to help them identify what is working and not working in their life. Together we can try to identify behaviors they may want to change or new behaviors they wish to add. Hopefully, we will find new ways for your teen to manage and solve some of their problems.
2. You are the most important and influential adult in your teen’s life
As your child’s therapist, I work 1 hour per week with them. My relationship with your child can’t have anywhere near the impact that your relationship has on them. I am another resource a parent or caregiver can place in their child’s life. Like a tutor or coach, my scope is limited to my expertise and my experience.
3. I want you to succeed as a parent
I respect the parent-child relationship and the importance of my client’s relationships with all family members. If this is a focus of our work together, I am open to working with my client’s family as much as my client is open. I want to be a resource to the parents of my clients. This may take the form of sessions designed to address your specific parent concerns, family therapy, referrals to parenting classes, and/ or referrals to parenting support groups.
4. Please communicate with me
If you have a specific concern or issue, please let me know. Open communication is of value to the therapeutic process. I am always open to emails, phone calls, and sessions with parents and caregivers. There may be things going on in my client’s life that they are not sharing with me. If parents are not communicating with me, I may miss information valuable to the therapeutic process.
5. Confidentiality rights apply to clients under the age of 18 and not just adults
In all states, licensing boards have standards that a licensed therapist must uphold. If we do not meet these standards, we risk losing our license. Confidentiality laws prohibit us from discussing the content of therapy sessions with outside parties unless we have written consent. In addition to these state laws, The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a Federal law that protects your child’s health information. It is your child’s legal right not to have the content of their sessions discussed outside of the session. And, like adult therapy clients, adolescents must know that their sessions are confidential, or they will not be open to sharing private information.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is the primary Federal law that protects health information. The HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules protect the privacy and security of individually identifiable health information. HIPAA Rules have detailed requirements regarding both privacy and security.
6. There are exceptions to confidentiality
If your teen discloses that they have been abused, hurt, or neglected, this information is not confidential, and I am obligated to report this. Suppose a client reveals to me that they intend to harm themselves or engage in dangerous behavior. In that case, this is also not confidential, and I am obligated to share this information with you immediately.
7. Therapy is one part of good mental health
Therapy is not a cure or “fix” for all issues. While we may work to resolve a particular problem, therapy is but a part of good mental health. Mental health involves a lot of things, such as getting adequate sleep, having a healthy diet, not abusing substances such as drugs and alcohol, and having a sound support system, including peers and adults. We may discuss some or all of these resources in our work together, but therapy cannot solve for or replace one of these valuable pieces.
8. Finding a good match is key
Like adult therapy, your teen needs a therapist they can connect with. I encourage parents to involve their teen in finding a therapist. Most of us have websites and bios that are accessible, and teens can be a part of this process. And, like all relationships, building rapport can take some time. I suggest that parents encourage their teen to attend 2-3 sessions before deciding if their therapist is a good match for them. Therapy can be awkward and difficult. It takes a few sessions to get to know someone and determine if they are someone you can work with.
9. Therapy is work
While therapy provides young clients a place to share personal information that will be held confidential, it is also a place where they may be challenged or encouraged to do hard things. Parents and caregivers should acknowledge and recognize the work their teen is doing when they regularly attend therapy and engage in this process.
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