How to Tell Your Parents You Need Therapy

Teen talking with her parents

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If you have concerns about your mental or emotional health, you are far from alone. Millions of teens and young adults live with mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that half of all mental health conditions start by age 14.Unfortunately, so many of these cases go undetected and untreated. 

Acknowledging there’s an issue is the first step to feeling better. Asking for help is the second. That said, asking about therapy can feel overwhelming, but it is also very courageous. 

If you’re ready to take the next step and talk to your parents about treatment, you might be wondering how to start the conversation. You might also be wondering how to prepare, what to expect, and how to handle the situation if your parents are not supportive. 

These are all valid concerns and questions. That’s why we asked three mental health experts to share their tips and suggestions about how to approach your parents about wanting to go to therapy. 

Tips For Talking to Your Parents About Therapy

Reaching out and asking for help is never an easy thing to do. And broaching the subject with parents who may not be supportive can add to the uneasiness many teens and young adults face. The good news is there are ways to approach this conversation that can help it go more smoothly.

Before you sit down with your parents, it’s critical that you take some time to prepare for the conversation. First and foremost, says Jessica January Behr, PsyD, a licensed psychologist and founder of Behr Psychology, be clear on why you want to start therapy. “Forget about your parents for a moment and check-in with yourself,” she says. 

Behr recommends asking yourself the following questions in regard to therapy before beginning this conversation with your parents:

  • Why will this be good for me?
  • Why now?
  • What do I hope to get out of it?

“If you’re confident in your answers, you'll be able to communicate in a way that commands respect and conveys your seriousness,” she explains. 

She also suggests doing some research, so you present an informed argument. For example, think about the type of therapy you would like and why. “It's much harder to argue when you are the less informed member of the conversation,” she says. 

“Don't lead with what your parents have done wrong,” says Behr. While therapy can be a place where you come to terms with less than optimal parenting strategies or even traumatic experiences, Behr says this is not the way to open.

“Instead, use this as an opportunity to share what you hope to learn about yourself, rather than what you hope to learn about your parents,” she explains. 

Steps to Prepare for the Conversation

Alyza Berman, LCSW, RRT-P, founder of the The Berman Center, offers the following tips on how to ask or tell your parents you would like to see a therapist:

Plan Out the Conversation

When you go in with a plan, you have more control. Figure out when the best time to talk to your parents is based on when you think their stress level will be the lowest.

Write out what you’re going to say. Berman says this is the time to thoroughly think about what you’ve been struggling with, so you can be clear with your parents. 

Pick Your Form of Communication

Berman says a critical step is to decide whether it’s better for you to talk to your parents in person, through text or via a phone call, or if you need to write a letter or an email. 

Practice the Conversation or Draft the Content

Practice what you’re going to say to your parents and how you think they will respond. Berman says to keep the conversation simple and not too complex. For example, “Mom/Dad, lately I’ve been struggling with [fill in the blank] and it’s caused me to [fill in the blank]. I think I need more help and would benefit from therapy. Can you help me?”

Involve Them in the Decision and Process

While some parents may not “believe” in therapy or are even afraid of therapy, Berman says many parents want what’s best for their children.

Alyza Berman, LCSW, RRT-P

I have found that if parents are asked to be involved or asked for help in finding a therapist, they tend to be more willing to help with the therapeutic process.

— Alyza Berman, LCSW, RRT-P

Questions and Responses You Should Anticipate

There is a stigma around mental illness that can make it challenging for teens and young adults to approach their parents about getting help. Planning out what you’re going to say and anticipating questions and responses that your parents may have can help you stay focused on your needs. 

That said, try not to overthink to the point that you get too stressed to have the conversation with your parents. Remember, most parents are willing to do anything to help their kids,” says Jason Drake, a licensed clinical social worker, and owner of Katy Teen & Family Counseling.

Although some parents are aware of the struggles and have been trying to help, Drake says others may be unaware, and this may be new for them to hear about the extent of your struggles.

With that in mind, Drake says some common questions from parents often center around trying to understand more about the problem and how they can help.

Questions Your Parents Might Ask You

  1. How long have you been feeling this way?
  2. Did anything happen to you that caused this to happen?
  3. Did we do anything to cause this to happen?
  4. What can we do to help?

When it comes to how parents may respond, Behr says teens and young adults can expect a range of responses.

Just Talk to Me

Behr says parents can become worried or even get offended that you may want to talk to a third party instead of confiding in them. Because of this, she recommends being prepared to answer why you'd like to speak to a professional rather than a family member. 

One way to handle this, she says, is to share that talking to a third party may actually improve your ability or willingness to share and open up more with your family. 

Will You Take Therapy Seriously?

Parents may ask if you plan to take therapy seriously and will want to hear that you are committed to the goals of therapy and aren't just hoping for a quick fix. “If you are going to invest your time and money into therapy, be sure of your commitment,” she says.

Behr says to have some reasons why you think therapy will be good for you and show evidence of your understanding of the investment and commitment required. 

How Much Will Therapy Cost?

Behr says your parents will likely ask about the cost of sessions. They may ask you questions like: “Do you plan on using your insurance? Do your parents need to pay for your therapy? Can you help contribute to the costs? Do you understand the investment?”

She suggests doing as much research as you can about the financial aspect of therapy, so you can be prepared to answer their questions related to the costs of therapy.

What Information Will You Disclose With Us About Therapy?

Another thing Behr says to consider is, do you want your family to be a part of your therapy, or do you prefer to have this be a private place for you to explore? “Be prepared to answer questions about boundaries with your parents, who may want to be more and less involved than you prefer,” she explains. 

What You Can Do If Parents Are Not Supportive

Unfortunately, even after adequate planning and thoughtful conversations, some parents may still not support therapy. If this is the case, Berman says teens and young adults can seek out a school counselor, a doctor, or go to the health center or free clinic. “Often, these professionals can talk to their parents with them or help them lay out a new strategy to get the proper help and support they need,” she explains. 

If your parents disagree with your desire to seek therapy, Behr says it’s essential to give the process time.

Jessica January Behr, PsyD

Parents can be from different generations, different cultures, or different mindsets that view mental health as something that can be chosen, or should be kept private. Let it sink in, and try not to get angry, but understand that it may take time for your parents to be on board with therapy.

— Jessica January Behr, PsyD

Sometimes parents are unsupportive because they do not understand what therapy is and how it works. “If they have not been to therapy themselves or know anyone who has been to therapy, they may benefit from information on what to expect in therapy. Helping them understand what therapy is, or is not, can be helpful,” says Drake. 

If you have started therapy (despite your parents disapproval) and you’re noticing the positive effects or insights gained through therapy, Behr says to consider sharing the ways that therapy has helped you or improved your ability to communicate with or understand your parents. “Showing parents that therapy can actually improve their relationship with you, or improve your overall well-being, they can come around and start to revise their views,” she says. 

Helpful Resources

A Word From Verywell

If you’re having concerns about your mental and emotional health, asking for help is the first step to getting better. Having a conversation with your parents about how you’re feeling may help ease some anxiety and allow you to brainstorm ways to seek counseling. 

If you’re worried about how your parents may respond, take some time to organize your thoughts before talking to them. Keep the conversation focused on you and your needs. And remember to give them some time to process the information. If they are still not supportive, reach out to a school counselor, your doctor, or a crisis helpline. 

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  1. World Health Organization. Adolescent mental health. September 28, 2020.