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Should I force my kid to get therapy when they don't want it?


Learn what issues might make therapy involuntary.

Should therapy ever be involuntary? This is a tough question, and one that's very individualized to each client and family. The answer is: sometimes.

Ideally, therapy would be voluntary for both children and adults; however, some situations may call for pushing your child to receive therapy against their wishes. The primary reason for involuntary therapy is to address safety concerns, including but not limited to:

  • Self-harm

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Aggressive or harmful behaviors towards others

  • An eating disorder causing medical risks

  • Mental health symptoms that get in the way of daily functioning

If a child is experiencing these, then therapy is often recommended at least until the safety issue is resolved, and able to be safely monitored within the home by family. The goal of this therapy would be safety planning, addressing the root cause of the issue, and then involving the family in the solution.

Another potential reason for involuntary therapy is after a big life event or change that impacts the child, including but not limited to:

  • Divorce

  • Death of a loved one

  • Reveal of trauma or abuse

  • Family addiction

  • Family incarceration

The goal of this therapy is to support the child in processing the event, learn and use healthy coping skills, and try to prevent long-term negative impact on their self-esteem, relationships and view of the world.


During involuntary therapy, it's ideal to provide the child with as many choices as possible, since the situation may feel out of their control. These choices can include:

  • Picking a therapist they like, and allowing them to switch if the don't connect with the first one

  • Deciding when and where they meet for therapy

  • Ensuring they are part of creating treatment goals, and have a clear sense of what would need to be accomplished in order to terminate therapy, if that is their ultimate goal

Involuntary therapy requires a whole other level of rapport-building and engagement, but I've still seen it work wonders with kids and families - with the right therapist. If you're wondering if involuntary therapy may be needed for your child, schedule a free 15-minute phone consult through my contact form to see if I can support you and your family.

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