If you’re struggling with your mental health, know this: you are not alone. Studies show that an estimated 20% of people between the ages of 12 and 18 are struggling with a mental health condition. First and foremost, admitting that you need help isn’t easy, so you should be proud that you’ve taken this critical first step.
It’s also essential that you know it’s normal if you’re feeling scared or uncertain or if you have questions about what you should do next. If you’re like many people, you might be wondering how do I tell my parents I need therapy? Discussing teen therapy with your family — or anyone, for that matter — can be intimidating, especially if you haven’t had discussions about mental health in the past.
This guide can help you prepare for that conversation, so you can find the best ways to approach your parents and let them know you need help. Keep reading to learn what to expect from the conversation, get tips for how you can approach it, and hear what you might want to do after you reach out to them.
What You Might Expect
If you’re trying to figure out how to tell your parents you need therapy, you may find it helpful to think about how they might respond. Having a plan for a difficult conversation can ease feelings of anxiety. Not all parents will react in the same way, but the following types of responses are all fairly common, so it might be beneficial for you to walk through each possible outcome in advance, so you can plan how to respond before you’re faced with the actual situation.
Your parents may be supportive
It’s quite possible that your parents will be fully supportive of your request. In fact, if they’ve recently been concerned about your well-being, they may feel relieved that you’ve come to them for help.
Try to remember that in most instances, your parents want the best for you. When you let them know how you’re feeling or that you’re struggling, you may find that they’re very sympathetic. Even if your parents don’t fully understand what you’re going through, they might be willing to give you all the support you need to seek a mental health professional.
Your parents might have questions
After you tell your parents that you need therapy, don’t be surprised if they have questions. They might want to know more about what or how you’re feeling or have questions about therapy. If your parents have never been to therapy themselves, they’re probably going to want to know more about it — for example, what therapy costs, how it works, and what mental health resources are available.
If they have a ton of questions, it might feel like you’re being bombarded, which can be overwhelming. For this reason, it’s a good idea to prepare some answers ahead of time. If you’re able to respond to all their questions, you might be able to ease some of their concerns more quickly.
Your parents may not understand
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions and stigmas surrounding mental health. Even if you express your concerns to your parents in a thoughtful way, they might not support your desire to seek therapy. They may feel guilty or believe that they’ve done something wrong.
Try not to be discouraged or give up hope, even if your parents respond negatively. Asking for help shows courage and strength. If they’re not supportive at first, keep in mind they might be in shock and can still change their minds later on.
– Talkspace therapist Jill Daino, LCSW-R, BC-TMH
“Reaching out to your parents can be nerve wracking. You might be worried about how they’ll respond, but remember that even if they don’t understand, your well-being is important. If your parents don’t understand, don’t stop trying. Reach out to another trusted adult, at school or another family member. You deserve to be heard.”
5 Tips for Talking to Your Parents About Needing Therapy
You might be asking yourself how do I tell my parents I need therapy. If you’re not sure how to bring up the subject, the following tips can help you prepare.
1. Plan out the conversation and practice what you want to say
Think carefully about what you want to say to your parents before you talk. You may even want to write down what you plan to say in advance. Once you know what you’ll be saying, you can try practicing the conversation.
2. Find the right time to talk
This can be a tough conversation, so timing will be necessary. If possible, try not to bring the topic up when your parents are busy or distracted. It might be helpful to talk to your parents alone in a quiet environment.
3. Try doing some research first
Given that expressing your feelings isn’t always easy, arming yourself with information can help. If you’re struggling to find the right words, research can often help you find a way to describe your experiences. For example, you could research symptoms of conditions like depression or anxiety.
This also might help you persuade your parents that therapy is important. You might mention that people with depressive symptoms are more likely to drop out of high school. Research can help you have confidence in what you’re saying.
4. Be honest about your feelings
It isn’t always easy to be open about how you feel, especially when you’re struggling. While you don’t have to share everything with your parents, you should try to be honest about what you’re going through. You may even find that you’re relieved once you let out the feelings that you’ve been bottling up.
5. Express your thoughts in a letter or an email first
If you don’t feel like you can tell your parents what you’re feeling through a conversation, try putting your thoughts down on paper instead. You could write them a letter or email. Once your parents have had the chance to read what you’ve written, you can try to have a face-to-face conversation.
“Speaking up for yourself might be hard at first, but remember your mental wellness and wanting to get help is a sign of strength. Approaching your parents, or other trusted adults, when you are calm is a good first step. It’s also helpful to remember it might take more than one conversation to figure this out and that’s okay.”– Talkspace therapist Jill Daino, LCSW-R, BC-TMH
What to Do After Talking to Them
Now that you’ve learned how to tell your parents you need therapy, you’ll need to decide what to do next. Regardless of how your parents react, you’ve taken a powerful step by asking for help.
If the response is positive
If your parents are encouraging and want to help, you can work with them to find a therapist who treats teens. No matter where you live, there are mental health professionals that can provide you with guidance and support. Online counseling is a flexible option that works well for many teens. Be sure to get familiar with what to expect from therapy, as it can often seem intimidating. If you’re an animal lover, you may also want to explore how to get a therapy dog, as these animals in conjunction with traditional therapy can be even more effective.
If the response is not supportive
If your parents have an adverse reaction, try to remember that their response isn’t about you. Not all parents are familiar with therapy or mental health conditions, and yours may not understand why you need professional help.
Continue to communicate with your parents and try to address their concerns. They may come around with time or once they have more information. Even if your parents don’t accept that you need therapy, there are other mental health resources such as crisis helplines, school counselors, and doctors that you can turn to for help.
“If you’ve spoken up and your parents are not supportive of seeking therapy, keep the lines of communication open with them and other trusted adults such as your teacher or a school counselor so they may help you advocate for yourself.”– Talkspace therapist Jill Daino, LCSW-R, BC-TMH
Accessible Therapy for Teens
Figuring out how to tell your parents you need therapy can be challenging, but it’s still worth doing. Once you’ve let them know that you need help, you can find a therapist that’s right for you. Talkspace provides online therapy for teens and has great therapists who can help you deal with whatever you’re experiencing. When you’re ready, it’s a good idea to come prepared with questions to ask a therapist, so you can determine if you’ve found the right match. Through different types of therapy, it can be a way to identify and address unhealthy thought and behavior patterns, learn anxiety and stress management techniques, or help you acquire a knowledge of healthy ways to cope with a mental health condition.
The bottom line is you’re not alone. There are a ton of resources out there. Yes, talking to your parents can be a great way to start, but if you don’t feel like they can give you the type of help you need, then make sure you find other sources of support. You’ve already made the incredibly courageous first step—admitting you need help—and you deserve to get it.
- NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental Health Facts CHILDREN & TEENS. https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Infographics/Children-MH-Facts-NAMI.pdf. Accessed October 17, 2022.
- Ahmedani BK. Mental Health Stigma: Society, Individuals, and the Profession. J Soc Work Values Ethics. 2011;8(2):41-416. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3248273/. Accessed October 17, 2022.
- Dupéré V, Dion E, Nault-Brière F, Archambault I, Leventhal T, Lesage A. Revisiting the link between depression symptoms and high school dropout: Timing of exposure matters. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2018;62(2):205-211. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.09.024. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29195763/. Accessed October 17, 2022.