Don’t Send Your Troubled Teenager For Counseling


The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 134 · Duration: 00:13:09

Don’t Send Your Troubled Teenager For Counseling

What do you do when you’re told that your teenager is in danger of becoming anti-social, and she refuses to go for counseling? We’ll talk about this and a whole lot more on this week’s podcast, Don’t Send Your Troubled Teenager For Counseling.

Don’t Send Your Troubled Teenager For CounselingToday we’re hearing from Lucia, who after reading my blog post, "Help, I Can’t Get My Troubled Teenager To Go To Counseling" on my website writes:

We are, and have been for years, in a control-battle situation with our now 18 year old senior in high school. She has been evaluated as having major anger issues that need to be resolved ASAP to prevent anti-social behavior. She refuses to go to therapy, saying she's an adult now. I've already said that we need family therapy...and that individual therapy is the 1st step. My husband wants to use the "as long as you're living in this house...our rules..." argument. Any suggestions?

Thanks for your question Lucia, the blog you’re responding to has received a lot of responses, so you’re not alone. There are a few clues in your question that create the opportunity for me to be helpful so here goes.

Being In A Control Battle With Your Teenager

First of all, your daughter has been diagnosed with major anger issues. I’m guessing you knew that before a professional got involved. And then they tell you to deal with it without giving you the support or resources for doing that. The professional community dealing with youth - and that includes the schools, medical community, law enforcement - should all be linked to the mental health community and they should be able to guide parents and youths to appropriate resources. It sounds like you got the message that you need to do something, but no help in making it happen. I’m sorry about that.

Now, you say you’ve been in a Control Battle for years with your daughter. I hear you, and now, what steps are you taking to end the Control Battle? If you haven’t read or listened to Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle, by all means, start there and develop a strategy for changing the toxic Beast Feeding behaviors you and your husband engage.

You are not going to get your daughter to change anything or do anything within the Control Battle family pattern you’re all in. So fighting about going to counseling is no different than fighting about anything else. Let’s move forward without fighting. What a concept: move forward and make progress without fighting, right?
Your husband wants to use the “as long as you're living in this house you have to follow our rules..." argument. The key word here is argument. There should be no argument, arguing is beast feeding behavior.

But it’s true, that kids, 18-year-olds or 8-year-olds or 28-year-olds or anyone living in your home, for that matter, do need to follow the family rules; they need be accountable to parental expectations. Obviously, the rules or expectations for these age groups would be wildly different, but accountability to parental expectations is required. But telling your daughter that or making that argument only adds to the fighting and arguing.

Kids, no matter their age, do need to follow the family rules. They need be accountable to parental expectations.Click To Tweet

Oppositional Behavior

Here is a basic parenting principle: There is no need to say the obvious. When you do, you invite oppositional behavior.

For instance, you tell a teenager to turn off the gaming console and start their homework. Ten minutes later you come back and they're still gaming. You repeat yourself and say, “I told you to turn that off and start your homework.” Here’s what you’ll hear back, “I know that, I’ll finish up in a little while. I don’t have much homework.”

But if you say, “I see you are having trouble turning off the gaming and starting your homework, I need you to take care of that now. Can you manage that or do you need me to turn it off for you?” Now you are giving new, clear information with no room to argue.

Ending The Control Battle

Lucia, let’s use the issue of getting therapy for your daughter and your family as a first step in ending your Control Battle.

Now, I strongly disagree with the idea that your daughter should start with individual counseling and let me explain why. If your teenager is going to individual therapy, it is really with the parent’s agenda, so the person or people with the desire for change aren’t in the session so there is little impetus for change.

Your daughter will explain to the therapist that her anger is justified because everyone is so unreasonable and the therapist won’t have a productive way to address that. The therapist will do what therapists do and be supportive to try to build relationship, but there is no clear avenue for change. Your daughter will even come home and say, “My therapist agrees with me that you guys are too controlling. That at 18 I should be able to make my own decisions.” Which of course is out of context so not really what the therapist said. But now the therapist is triangulated in the family Control Battle.

Instead, how about if a therapist meets with you, the parents and your daughter, together and sees how arguments go and sees the Control Battle raging in the family. The therapist can communicate to you and to your daughter that you all are supporting this invisible element, the negative pattern in your family that I call The Beast. Then what if the therapist helps all of you see how it’s interfering with your ability to get what you want and most importantly, it’s interfering with your daughter’s development, placing her future in jeopardy.

Then, what if we outline how everyone can work to starve instead of feed the Beast? In other words, end the Control Battle and build a better communication pattern in the family. Wouldn’t that be a lot more hopeful? Now, no one person is to blame for the problem, however, everyone is responsible for their part in solving the problem.

Everyone can take responsibility for their part in solving the problem within the family.Click To Tweet

Addressing The Starting Point

Things may still be difficult to change, but at least there is a starting point for a therapist to work with everyone. The therapist can work with your daughter and help her see how her anger is working against her and against her own best interests. The therapist can help her understand and become more comfortable with the more vulnerable feelings that her anger is protecting.

Then, working with you and your husband, the therapist can help you find a way to set and enforce limits with a positive tone that doesn’t feed the beast or invite oppositional behavior. They can help you communicate and address feelings in your family in a healthier way.

Lucia, I get it that your daughter’s chronic anger is serious and this isn’t going to resolve easily. But if you start on the right foot, and we get a good understanding of the family dynamics and everyone is given their part to address critical changes, then with commitment and persistence, you’ll get there.

Parents and therapists working with teenagers, individual therapy with a teenager, who is there because their parents want them to get counseling, is a very low leverage intervention. If, however, we start with the belief that teenagers want the same things their parents want for them, to be happy and successful, and we identify the negative family pattern that’s blocking that, and give parents and youth alike, their own mandate and support for changing it, then we’ll have a workable plan for real change.

Thank you to Lucia for your very important question.

If you are a therapist who works in a behavioral health treatment program and would like to talk with me about improving outcomes in your program, come on over to my website and shoot me an email or give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk with you.

Please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.

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Posted in The Healthy Family Connections Podcast.