You can’t make your kids have counselling

Or talk about what you want them to talk about

Key points:

  • Parents can decide that their under-16 should attend counselling, but it is always far better for the child to be involved in the decision-making process.
  • Insisting on therapy without the child’s cooperation may undermine the good that counselling can do.
  • And sometimes what seems like agreement arises from ulterior motives.

In one sense, attending counselling is a bit like going to school. Although technically, in the UK, the parent of a child under 16 can indeed ‘require’ their child to attend counselling, just as the law determines that an under-16 must attend school, in neither case can the child be forced to derive benefit from being there.

So the reluctant school attender can mess around, bunk off classes, look at their phone instead of listen. And the child unwilling to attend counselling can just refuse to engage.

Of course, there are ways that talented therapists can cut through the resistance and tap into a child’s curiosity to bring them onside. But a young person may still resent the fact that they were forced by their parent into a course of action that they did not choose to take.

It is not surprising that a parent may be desperate to find help for their struggling child. Many therapists will have had a parent plead, “My child doesn’t want therapy. But I know they will change their mind if you see them just once!”

The Human Givens Institute recommends that, in such situations, it is best for the therapist to hold an initial discussion with both parent and child to explain what therapy from our approach means (helping children identify and meet their emotional needs, take new perspectives and learn useful life skills) and leave the choice to the child (after asking the parent to leave the room or the call).

Even if a child does agree to attend therapy, it is not up to mum or dad to decide what they need to talk about. A colleague mentioned a worried mum who phoned her to ask her to see her 13-year-old daughter: “I need you to focus on reducing how much time she spends on her phone, establishing a sensible bedtime and helping her to see that her father [from whom mum was divorced] is not Mr Wonderful and always right – but you can’t mention that I said any of this.” My colleague gently had to inform her that this wasn’t how the process worked, and offered a session to mum instead, to look at more effective ways to deal with her own concerns about her child’s behaviour and attitudes.

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