Therapists who treat teenagers struggling with mental health problems, addiction, and/or substance abuse disorders tend to encounter resistance from their clients at some point during the therapeutic process. Typically, resistance comes from the individual in question – the teenager – but if you’re a therapist working with adolescents on these issues, be prepared: parents may offer stiff resistance during the recovery journey, too. One area where you can expect push-back is around the idea of residential treatment.
It may be clear to you that time in a 24/7 therapeutic environment is the best option for the teenager, but the parents might not be on the same page. If that’s the case, then you can prepare yourself for these tricky conversations by understanding a few key points ahead of time:
- Parents might not be open to the idea of residential treatment.
- Parents might react emotionally to your suggestion, and display unhealthy coping mechanisms such as anger, denial, accusing, or projecting – reactions similar to the unhealthy coping skills of addiction and other mental health disorders.
- Parents might need lots of information about residential treatment, and they might need the information right away.
- Parents will likely be more receptive to the idea if you’re ready with a list of potential treatment centers you trust, including contact information for admissions staff and clinical directors (if available).
- Parents tend to respond positively when provided with a list of references, including previous client families willing to share their experience with residential treatment for mental health, addiction, and substance abuse disorders.
Right or wrong, rational or irrational, justified or baseless, it’s critical that you, as a therapist, recognize these conversations are almost never going to be easy for parents. True, there may be outliers. To some parents, the idea of residential treatment might be a relief. To others, it may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Most will fall somewhere in between, and look to you for guidance and support. It’s important to grant them the same empathy, compassion, and understanding you extend your primary clients. In fact, during that conversation, it’s probably best to treat them as primary clients, because if the teenager in question is going to have any chance of successful, sustainable recovery, then their parents need to sign on – and participate fully – in all treatment efforts. The way you pitch the idea may determine what course they take, which, in turn, can affect the health and well-being of the teen in need of residential treatment.
How to Help Families Make the Right Choice
First, come to the conversation with as much data as possible. Parents will need both therapeutic and practical information. From a therapeutic standpoint, you’ll need to support your recommendation with concrete facts. If you get to this stage, it’s likely the teenager is in an acute state of need, and you can point to the following factors as contributing to your recommendation:
- Habitual Relapse: The teen has experienced several failed attempts at getting and staying sober. Once parents see the status quo is unsustainable, they may open their minds to the idea of residential treatment.
- Failed Attempts at Outpatient Programs: If the teen has been unsuccessful in Outpatient, Intensive Outpatient, or Partial Hospitalization programs, explain to parents the next logical step, after unsuccessful attempts at these levels of support, is residential treatment.
- Lack of Appropriate Support: Parents may have done everything within their power to help their teen stay clean and sober, but at the end of the day, they’re neither trained professionals nor can they dedicate every moment of every day to the support and care of their child. Make sure parents know they’ve done all they can, and the time has come to pursue a more robust approach to treatment.
- Dual Diagnosis: Sometimes it’s impossible – even for a trained and experienced therapist – to unearth a client’s core issues when their symptoms overlap with those associated with substance abuse disorders. Explain to parents that total detoxification, followed by a period of sobriety, is often the only way to understand what’s really going on with their child.
- Safety: If the teen’s behavior is trending toward escalation in a way that creates a safety risk for them or their immediate family – and you can offer clear examples of this behavior – then this can serve as a wake-up call for parents sitting on the fence.
Second, after you cover your therapeutic bases, understand that the practical details related to seeking and committing to residential treatment may be overwhelming. If you have an office staff capable of running down questions about insurance coverage, out-of-pocket costs, length of stay, and potential modes of treatment, then have them prepare this information ahead of time – within reason, of course. Any extra support, particularly during these initial stages, can take the edge off, and make the decision to pursue residential treatment less fraught with anxiety and fear. At very least, you can provide phone numbers, locations, and third-party resources for parents to pursue.
Finally, recognize that for many parents, admitting their child needs to leave home to receive treatment is tantamount to an admission of failure. Get this out on the table right away, and dispel the notion as quickly as possible. Remind parents why they came to you in the first place: their teenager needed help they couldn’t provide themselves. They weren’t failures then, and they’re not failures now. The opposite is true: it takes courage to commit to residential treatment, and it may well be the best parenting decision they every make.
Residential Treatment Programs at Evolve
Evolve offers residential treatment programs for teens struggling with mental health, addiction, and substance abuse disorders in various locations throughout California. Our teens live on-site with 24-hour support and receive the highest quality solution-focused, data-driven, evidence based, results-oriented therapy available. We’ll work your clients to create an individual recovery plan based on specific needs and goals, and craft a post-treatment plan to help them pursue a fulfilling life after their time with us.
Our admissions counselors are standing by to help your clients get the help they need.
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Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.