As a mental health professional, I have worked with families, teens and young adults for almost a decade. One thing that I repeatedly see is the power struggle parents have with their children. More specifically, in regards to their mental health treatment. It’s common to have a parent call me to either get their child into the Adolescent IOP or into individual therapy to help their child who is maybe self-harming or struggling with suicidal thoughts and impulsivity only to have the kid refuse to go. I’ve seen parents back away from treatment at that point and not encourage their child to try therapy. Parents sometimes worry that their kid will “act out” or get “worse” if they are made to go to therapy. Kids have threatened their parents with their own repercussions if they are forced into therapy.
This is where I ask the parents a simple question. Would you allow your child to decide whether or not they are going to go to the dentist? The answer has always been no. Why is that? Well, the kid needs to be checked out for cavities and to have a cleaning. Mental health treatment is no different. No. Different. Teenagers are not typically capable to make their own decisions on medical treatment. They have to have a parent or guardian make decisions not just for legal reasons but because a teenager is not always able to fully comprehend the long lasting effect that can happen if they don’t go to the dentist, doctor or even a therapist. Their brain is not fully grown which impairs them in comprehending the full scope of their actions and making sound choices. Now, some teenagers are able to realize this, which is great, and they want to get into therapy because they know they need the help. I would say this is a small group of kids who feel this way though. Most are reluctant to ask for the help or they don’t think they have a problem.
Back to the threats. I have yet to see a kid who came to therapy, against their wishes, act out and or “get worse.” This is a form of manipulation on the kids’ part to get what they want from the parent and sometimes, it unfortunately works. Of course the parents are worried about their child and want the best for them so that can be a hard decision to make. Will their child follow through with their threat? I suppose it’s possible, I just haven’t experienced it.
If your child is struggling with self-harming behaviors, suicidal thoughts, su- icide attempts, has been hospitalized for mental health reasons, has been diagnosed with depression and or anxiety, is missing school and isolating from social situa-ions, please consider getting them into either an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) or individual therapy. If the above symptoms are present with your child, remember that your child may not be capable of looking at the bigger picture in life and realizing that they need help. This is an executive parental decision. Just like the dentist. It’s really no different, and it could save your child’s life and get their mental health stabilized.
So what is an IOP and how can it help a child? Well, The Behavioral Wellness Group offers an Adolescent IOP that I actually direct and run. IOP meets 3 times a week for 3 hours each time and for 7 weeks. It’s a commitment for both the kid and the parents/families BUT the program works. The kids get to hear from their peers about what they struggle with and what coping skills they’ve learned to use and what works and hasn’t worked for them. IOP is focused heavily on DBT (Dialectal Behavioral Therapy) which focuses on reframing negative thinking patterns and destructive behaviors into positive outcomes. DBT helps with regulating emotions, building self-management skills, and to reduce anxiety symptoms, depression symptoms and stress. DBT is evidenced-based and helps to establish coping mechanisms to implement in environments that may elicit old destructive patterns.
To learn more about BWG’s Adolescent IOP, visit this page or feel free to contact me. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.
Erin Pawlak, MS, LPCC
Therapist and Adolescent IOP Director