Have you met adolescents or does your child seem irritable constantly? Nothing ever seems to go right for them. They are always slamming doors or talking back. You feel like they should be really happy about something and instead they just seem pissed off. What is their deal?
You understand that sometimes some things just don’t work out. Some days are just rough. But for adolescents who have depression, every day can be like this. And they run out of explanations for why it is like this. Its called irritability. And for adolescents, it can be a major part of their depression. Sometimes it makes depression hard to identify in them because a lot of people can be irritable…sometimes… But not all of the time. They might be called by other people angry, uncooperative, insubordinate, impolite, antisocial – but under it all, under how other people react to them – is this feeling of irritability that they can’t shake off although they don’t understand why.
When people hear the word “depression” or that someone is “depressed” a lot of different things come to mind. People make assumptions about what that experience is like and what that person is like. These assumptions usually come from negative stereotypes about mental illnesses, like depression. As a society we don’t really understand mental illness because we don’t talk about it in an authentic way.
I’ve struggled with depression since I was a teenager and in high school I didn’t want to tell anyone about my experience because I was worried they would think I was weak and I was just complaining.
The Mindful Self-Compassion website is a great resource if you are looking for more information about mindfulness and being very compassionate with yourself! The website and book were developed by Christopher Germer, PhD is a clinical psychologist from Massachusetts. He specializes in mindfulness and compassion-based psychotherapy.
It can be difficult to guide your child about making the decision to start therapy if their grades are already suffering. How can they afford to go to all of the sessions? Especially if they have to miss school? Do they really have time for it? Is it worth it?
If your child already has good grades – it might seem unnecessary for them to go to therapy, because good grades means they are functioning well, right? Well…grades are only one part of their life. They might be struggling in others like with their relationships with others and their relationship with themselves. Some young people also try working harder at school as a way to deal with their emotions. There are other important ways of functioning – see our past article talking about this.
If on the other hand, your child’s grades are getting worse because of their symptoms, can they afford to miss school for therapy?
The problem is if they don’t get therapy their grades are likely to get worse. That is because depression can make them feel not motivated to do their work or go to class, they can have trouble concentrating, and anxiety might make them too worried about going to class or getting through a test without second guessing themselves.
Some young people don’t like to go see a doctor or a therapist because they haven’t felt listened to in the past. As a parent, you might have felt this way before with medical professionals. It can even feel more this way as a young person who does not have the experience you do.
Because of this, the young person might feel frustrated and have some of these thoughts:
How is this even going to work if no one is listening to me?
They really don’t care what I think, just what they think.
There’s no way for them to understand anyways.
The problem with these thoughts is that if the young person is working with a professional therapist or doctor, they should not be true. In medicine, doctors are evaluated based on professionalism – which is their code of conduct or the way they are taught and socialized to behave. Professionalism includes having respect for patients and being responsive to their needs. So if someone is really not listening to your child, it is unprofessional. That means they have a right to and should say something!
Some examples of things you could say to your child to encourage them to address the situation in a neutral way are:
Do you feel like you are not being listened to? Maybe we should tell Dr. So and So.
I know you would like to get better; please let me know what is holding you back from talking to the doctor/therapist.
Let’s brainstorm about how to tell Dr. So and So some of the concerns you have.
Has this happened to your child before? How have you and your child addressed it?
What are some reasons you feel your child or others you know have had negative experiences with therapy?
Here are a few examples your child may relate to:
The first time they went, it wasn’t their decision.
Going to therapy can help with a lot of different problems your child may have—but if they were made to go or it felt like it was a punishment versus a decision they made to become more healthy, they might have a negative attitude about it. My mom used to make me pick weeds in our driveway, and I kind of have a bad attitude about gardening! Even though a lot of people enjoy it.
The therapist and you did not seem to connect.
We know a big reason therapy works is the therapeutic alliance, which we wrote about in a prior post. If your child felt like they didn’t connect with their first therapist – or especially if they didn’t feel like the therapist cared about them, that might have been a tough experience for them. Telling someone your deepest thoughts makes your child vulnerable and if it didn’t work the first time, maybe they don’t want to take that risk again.
You (the parent) were too involved.
Your child may have felt like they couldn’t be honest if you were always around. Or maybe they felt more nervous and weren’t able to listen because they were worried something they might say would get them into trouble. Parents can still be involved without being overly involved.
Your child felt betrayed.
If your child received therapy when they were younger and the therapist was worried about abuse, that is something that the therapist has to report to the state for their safety. But when you are a kid in the mix of it, sometimes you feel like your trust was betrayed. That can be hard to deal with.
The thing is – one bad experience does not mean the next one will be. And your child’s experience as a young person or child may be different when they are older. There are things you and your child can do to help make sure that their next therapy experience is a good one. We know therapy works and can get your child to better mental health.
If your child had a bad experience before, but wants to try therapy again, here are some things they can try:
Make a list of the pros and cons about going to therapy – go over the list with someone they trust like you, another supportive adult or their primary care doctor and together, make a decision if this is a next best step for them
At the first session, tell the therapist what their expectations and hopes are from therapy
If they feel like they don’t connect with their therapist, ask for a referral to see someone else—therapists are used to this as everyone is different and sometimes certain personalities don’t click
If you would like to be involved, talk to the therapist about the best way to communicate with them without making your child feel like they cannot be honest with their therapist. If you feel more work is needed between you and your child, ask your child’s therapist if they recommend family therapy in addition to individual therapy
at the first session, your child should talk to their therapist about the limits of confidentiality – what do they always keep private and what if anything, are they not allowed to keep private
Do you have any other examples of negative experiences you or your child have had with therapy? Or tips you have about how to make the next experience positive?