13 Reasons Why Teenagers Are Resisting Therapy

Table of Contents

This article seeks to address the following:

  • Understanding why teens refuse therapy
  • Common reasons that a teen is refusing therapy
  • Recommend ways to address teen therapy refusal
  • Different types of teen therapy and teen treatment recommendations

Getting a teenager, and anyone else, for that matter, to agree to get the help they need is not easy. Teen therapy refusal may vary from practical reasons, such as not wanting to miss school to preconceived notions, such as not needing help.

Despite their reason, this is a tough place for parents to be, and trying to convince them can be difficult. Adolescents don’t 100% need to agree with your parental decision for them to see a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, but treatment is often more effective if they do agree.

Accepting help from experienced professionals such as a Key Healthcare therapist can be transformational for teens. Still, first, they must be willing to talk about their feelings, explore their thought processes and be willing to put in the work.

It’s important to find ways to encourage a teen to agree to therapy, as teen histrionic personality disorders can lead to more serious problems if left untreated. Untreated mental health disorders in teens are related to issues such as adverse health, self-harm, and higher levels of drug use.

Understanding Teen Refusal to Engage in Therapy or Teen Treatment

For most teenagers in the US, therapy is “weird,” and they would rather sit through anything than go through it. Teen Therapy is often crucial, and for teen treatment to work, it’s important to get to the bottom of why teens are resistant to therapy.

13 Reasons For Teen Resistance To Therapy in the US

#1 They don’t think they need help

Sometimes teenagers will disagree with having a problem or think that whatever they are struggling with is a part of who they are and does not need to be treated. With such thoughts, teens might start finding comfort in the condition, and getting treatment becomes scary. They may also feel uncertain of what treatment may do for them. Teens feel this way because adolescents often strive for independence during this stage and may resist therapy as they perceive it as an intrusion or an attempt to control their lives. They may want to handle their challenges independently or feel apprehensive about involving others in their personal matters. Recognizing and respecting their need for autonomy is important in addressing this resistance.

#2 Teens feel ashamed of going to therapy

Parents may knowingly or unknowingly shame or blame a teen for their actions which may lead to feelings of shame. This may affect their willingness to go to therapy as it means admitting to what they have been shamed for. Teens may be reluctant to confront their emotions, vulnerabilities, or past experiences due to feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness.

Adolescents may feel ashamed and resist individual teen therapy or adolescent group therapy due to various other reasons, such as academic struggles or bad performance, teen mental health issues like teen depression or anxiety disorders in teens, challenging family dynamics such as divorce, conflict, or substance abuse within the family, sexual identity or orientation (LGBTQ+), teen substance abuse, negative body image and eating disorders, their teen self-harm or suicidal ideation in teens, any past signs of PTSD trauma in teens or abuse, instances of social exclusion or bullying, and conflicts with cultural or religious beliefs.

This shame can prevent them from seeking therapy and discussing their concerns openly. Creating a safe and non-judgmental therapeutic environment is essential to address these feelings of shame, build trust, and support teens in overcoming resistance to therapy. Creating a safe space where they can explore and address these emotions is crucial.

#3 Fear of being vulnerable and talking about emotions

Therapy for teens comes with too much talk of emotions, and if you have interacted with a teen, you know there’s nothing they hate more than talking about feelings. The main reason is that the adolescent brain does not develop fully until 24, and teens mostly act out of impulse, need, or want. Teenagers will likely shut down if they don’t believe something, making therapy nearly impossible.

#4 Fear of judgment or negative evaluation:

Teens often resist therapies or sharing their thoughts and experiences because they fear judgment. Whether it’s their academic performance, confusion about their sexuality, or any other personal aspect of their lives, they may be hesitant to open up and share with others. This fear of judgment stems from a desire to avoid negative evaluations or criticism from peers, family members, or society as a whole. They may worry about being labeled or misunderstood, which can lead to feelings of vulnerability and discomfort. As a result, teens may prefer to keep their thoughts and emotions hidden rather than risk potential judgment or rejection.

#5 Lack of privacy

Many teens hold back on going to therapy or talking to a professional out of fear that the therapist will tell the parent everything discussed during the session. Teens don’t want to feel like the therapist and parents are ganging up on them. Although the therapist needs to inform the parents how the teenager is fairing, it must be private. This lack of trust could stem from past negative experiences, fear of being judged, or concerns about confidentiality. Building a trusting relationship with the therapist is crucial for overcoming this resistance.

#6 There’s a stigma attached to therapy

Negative societal attitudes or stigma associated with therapy can deter teenagers from seeking or engaging in therapy. Even though important steps have been made in destigmatizing therapy, there’s still a stigma associated with seeking teen mental health treatment. Suggesting therapy for a teenager sounds like passing judgment on them. They may worry about being perceived as “weak” or facing social judgment. so parents and therapists must work extra hard to normalize therapy and educate teens, and challenge societal misconceptions about therapy to alleviate this resistance.

#7 The therapist is not the right match

If a teen does not get along with or respect the professional they are working with for whatever reason, they are unlikely to agree to keep seeing them. Finding a therapist that’s a good match for your teenager’s personality is important. It can be frustrating to find the right therapist, and it might take a while, but you need to keep trying until you preferably find a therapist who works with teens, such as a professional at Key Healthcare. If you’ve unsuccessfully tried getting help, you can ask the teen what they think. These qualities are important to remember when trying to find a therapist. The therapist should also be able to guide the parent on what to do at home to help the teenager.

#8 Negative past experiences with therapy:

If teens have had negative experiences with therapy in the past, such as feeling misunderstood or unsupported, they may be resistant to engaging in therapy again. Acknowledging and addressing their concerns and providing reassurance and a different therapeutic approach can help overcome this resistance.

#9 Find it challenging to share their emotions or thoughts:

Some teenagers struggle to effectively communicate their thoughts, emotions, and experiences. They may struggle to articulate their needs or feel overwhelmed by verbalizing their inner experiences. Exploring alternative forms of communication, such as art therapy for teens or journaling, can help overcome this barrier.

#10 Cultural and familial influences on therapy resistance:

Cultural norms or family beliefs about mental health and therapy can influence a teenager’s perception and willingness to engage in therapy. Some cultures may have limited exposure or understanding of therapy, leading to resistance. Engaging with families and addressing cultural beliefs can help alleviate this resistance.

#11 Lack of motivation or perceived relevance:

Teens may resist therapy if they do not feel motivated or perceive it as relevant to their current challenges. They may not see the immediate benefits or may have competing priorities or interests. Helping them understand the long-term advantages of therapy and finding ways to increase motivation can address this resistance.

#12 Defense mechanisms and avoidance strategies:

Resistance to therapy can be a form of defense mechanism for teens to protect themselves from facing painful emotions or confronting difficult experiences. They may use avoidance strategies to maintain control or avoid vulnerability. Creating a safe and supportive environment to explore these defense mechanisms is crucial.

# 13 Limited insight or awareness of the need for therapy:

Some teenagers may lack insight into their own struggles or underestimate therapy’s value. They may downplay their issues or believe they can manage them without professional help. Psychoeducation about the benefits of therapy, sharing success stories, and providing a clear understanding of how therapy can support their growth can help overcome this resistance.

How Teen Refusal To Engage in Therapy Can Affect Mental Health

Adolescence is a unique and formative age where crucial physical, emotional, and social changes occur. Any exposure to factors such as abuse, violence, or poverty can make teens vulnerable to mental health problems.

It’s estimated that every 1 in 7 adolescents globally experiences mental health disorders, yet most remain unrecognized and untreated. When left untreated, adolescents with mental health conditions are vulnerable to stigma, discrimination, risk-taking behaviors, and social exclusion.

Emotional Disorders

These are common among teens and more common among older adolescents than younger ones. Anxiety disorders, involving panic, excessive worries, and depression, can profoundly affect schoolwork, school attendance, and interaction with peers and generally other people. Teenage depression often leads to suicide as well.

Eating Disorders

These include anorexia nervosa and bulimia, which mostly emerge during the teenage years. Eating disorders in teens involve abnormal eating patterns and preoccupation with food, mostly accompanied by concerns about body weight and shape. Left untreated, they lead to premature death from medical complications and suicide.

Behavioral Disorders

Behavioral disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) are common among younger adolescents. It’s often characterized by difficulty paying attention, disregarding consequences, and excessive activity. If left untreated, behavioral disorders can negatively impact education and lead to criminal behavior.

Self-harm and Suicide

Suicide is among the leading causes of death in teens. The risk factors range from abuse to stigma against seeking health, drug, weed and alcohol addiction, access to means of suicide, and barriers to accessing the necessary care.


Psychosis and conditions exhibit symptoms of psychosis that occur in late adolescence. The symptoms can include hallucinations and delusion and can impact a teen’s ability to enjoy or even participate in daily activities and affect school work. It also often leads to stigma.

How to Address Teen Refusal to Engage in Therapy or Treatment Recommendations

While getting treatment for teens is essential, forcing them to undergo treatment is not the answer. You can take several steps to help your teens get treatment, including the following;

Establishing Trust and Rapport With the Teen

Teenagers often avoid conversations surrounding difficult topics, especially if they feel judged, lectured, or punished. It’s crucial to create a space where they feel safe discussing different topics, including possible reasons against going to therapy.

Explain What Therapy Is and Clear up Any Misconceptions They May Have About Therapy

A teenager might not fully grasp the meaning and importance of therapy. There’s also a lot of misconception surrounding therapy among adolescents. Even for those who understand what therapy is, it might be vague or clouded by a misconception. Start by explaining what therapy is and the importance of seeking help in a manner that they understand. For instance, teenagers will prefer hearing about confidentiality involved in their sessions.

Positively Talk About Therapy

There is unfair bias surrounding seeking help for mental health, as mentioned, hence the importance of talking about therapy in a positive light. Explain to teens that seeing a therapist is the same as seeing any other doctor; the goal is to feel better.

Validate their Feelings

It’s crucial to validate and normalize the teen’s feelings. Undergoing treatment can be scary and nerve-wracking, so it’s important to create a space where as a parent, you can have collaborative conversations with your teen. You can also explain that you will seek help while in treatment through parent support groups, teen family therapy sessions, and one-on-one sessions. It’s important to make them feel that they are not alone.

Avoid Getting Emotional

As a parent or guardian to a teen in therapy, you must stay calm and clear-headed when discussing seeking help. Take time to cool off if you find yourself getting mad, and get back at it later.

Involve Them in the Process

Every once in a while, ensure your teen has input into their therapeutic process. Avoiding what we don’t want to do, especially talking about our emotions, is easy. However, when we are involved in decision-making, it becomes harder to say no to something we choose. You can involve your teen when choosing a therapist to see or deciding when they want to attend therapy. Making them part of the process can empower them and reduce the possibility of therapy resistance.

Don’t Give Up

If your teen still says no to therapy even after putting in the work, don’t give up. Avoid resisting the resistance, as it only makes things worse. Talk to them about attending therapy; eventually, they may warm up to the idea.


Teens are prone to different mental health disorders, but by getting the necessary help, they can seamlessly assimilate into society and lead happy, productive lives. It’s not uncommon for teens to resist therapy for various reasons, but getting them the necessary help is crucial. Different treatment recommendations depend on a teen’s mental health concern. If you need help figuring out where to begin, Key Healthcare is the place for you. Contact us to learn more about the different teen treatment programs we offer.

Learn more about our teen residential programs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What factors contribute to teen refusal to engage in therapy or treatment?

Teens may feel like they don’t need help or that therapy won’t help, especially if they have already given up on themselves. Other factors may include fear of judgment, change, the uncertainty that comes with therapy, and the fear of what they might discover in therapy.

Can medication help with teen mental health?

Medication can help treat mental health disorders but is mainly combined with other forms of treatment, such as therapy.

Are there any alternative or complementary therapies for teen mental health?

Complementary therapies for mental health problems include teen yoga therapy, teen art therapy, teen music therapy, and surf therapies. These alternative therapies can serve as a way to increase feelings of well-being and ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Additionally, exploring  5 ways on how to get over depression can provide further guidance and support for those struggling with these issues.

How can I find a therapist or treatment provider that my teen trusts?

The right teen therapist makes all the difference, so contact us at Key Healthcare. Our licensed teen therapists can help your teenager.

How can I help my adolescent stay motivated during teen therapy or treatment?

Your participation in your teen’s therapy sessions and giving praise and appropriate feedback play a significant role in enhancing teen motivation.

How long does teen therapy or treatment usually take for teens?

The time therapy lasts on the type of treatment and the frequency of treatment. The number of recommended sessions will also vary depending on the condition.

What is the highest level of teen therapy offered?

If your adolescent is really struggling, contact us to speak with one of our clinical experts for free, with no obligation. Ask about our Teen residential treatment program, which is a 24/7 live-in therapeutic care program for your adolescent.