When troubled teens resist going to therapy, refuse to take prescribed medications or don't implement solutions or suggestions that come up in therapy, parents find themselves in a difficult situation. How do you help a teen who exhibits problems that are likely to improve with treatment - but refuses to participate in the treatment, or even try it?
Why Teens Resist Treatment
As an initial step in getting a teen to agree to treatment, it helps to understand some of the reasons why teens tend to resist in the first place. Here are some of the reasons troubled teens may be reluctant to get the professional help they need.
1. Social stigma - although there is increasing acceptance of emotional problems and mental illness there is still some social stigma attached and teens are often painfully aware of this. Anything associated with therapy or getting help for a mental health issue may be perceived as taboo by teens.
2. Defiance - some teens get so caught up in being rebellious they refuse anything suggested by someone in authority. For some teens the problems they are suffering from, such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, contribute to their acting this way, it's not necessarily a well thought out choice.
3. Poor insight - many teens have a limited capacity to look at themselves honestly or realistically view how their behavior or problems are affecting them. It's often easier for parents to see the problems than for a teen to do so.
4. Fear - is almost always part of teen resistance to therapy. Teens may experience fears they are 'crazy', that others will perceive them this way or that they won't get any better. Some teens are fearful of the prospect of having to take a deeper look at themselves or their problems.
5. Embarrassment - or a sense of shame that they have problems or a mental health disorder that they are unable to deal with or manage effectively on their own. Accepting help from others can be difficult for a teen to do.
6. Denial - an inability to face the problems they have because they are too painful or overwhelming. Sometimes denial is part of the illness they suffer from, as is often the case for teens involved in substance abuse
7. Misconceptions - about how psychotherapy works, what will be expected from them in treatment, fears that what they tell a therapist will be shared with their parents, and other misinformation can prevent a teen from agreeing to go to therapy.
8. Concealing - or trying to avoid addressing related problems that others don't know about, such as cutting or substance abuse. If a teen doesn't want to admit to having these problems they are going to try to avoid therapy at all costs.
9. Holding on - to problems, drugs they've come to depend on or self-destructive behaviors that have become a habit. If these are the best ways a teen has come up with to cope, the idea of giving them up can be frightening. Teens may feel more in control with their current coping methods than with the idea of trying something totally new and different.
10. Feeling unworthy - is often a barrier to getting help. This is often true for teens who suffer from depression, as they may struggle with feeling worthless. If a teen feels they aren't worth saving they are going to be resistant to actively trying to do so.
Resistance to therapy is fairly common for teens and the situation becomes even more difficult when the issues that keep them away are symptoms of the problems they are having. Understanding your teen's resistance to therapy is the first step in helping and supporting your teen to get the help they need.