How to Engage Kids in Therapy

Kids and teens are often forced to attend psychotherapy, but there are also some kids who welcome the chance to have someone listen to, validate, and acknowledge their emotions and experiences.

So how do you engage kids and teens that are forced into treatment?

First of all, validate that they are there against their choice and that you understand that they don’t want to be there. Acknowledging that you already understand will help soften the process. Next begin to develop a therapeutic relationship by asking them if they want to play a game, draw a picture, or write a story. Through the creative process or play therapy, kids and teens quickly learn that instead of being forced, they can enjoy coming to therapy sessions and talking about difficult things such as family problems or issues in a way that makes them feel safe and comfortable. It’s important that they have fun too. Psychotherapy doesn’t have to be difficult or boring.

During one of my therapy sessions with a teenage girl who liked to write stories, I invited her to write words on wooden blocks that I had purchased from a thrift store. Together we sat on the rug and turned the blocks into a game. Not only was she fully engaged in therapy, but she felt in control. Having the freedom to write words, she wrote specific words that related to issues and problems that she was experiencing at the time which involved her being bullied at school. Until that point, she was unable or unwilling to talk about the painful experience.

Even in telehealth, you can play games, draw pictures and write stories. You don’t need to have a physical office. The therapeutic process can be just as effective. Clients simply need to have the materials at home to use such as a pad of paper, pencils, crayons, clay or a notebook.

Remember when anyone is forced to do something they don’t want to do, it’s nice to have options. Giving kids and teens several options, not only helps them feel they have some control, but it opens up communication and together you can build a positive therapeutic relationship.