Therapists sometime struggle to get their teenager therapy clients to open cup in session. Here are three things teen therapists can do to facilitate conversation with their clients.


  1. Well, the first thing is to avoid ever saying to them that you’re trying to get them to “open up.” It sounds so one-sided, intrusive even. Yes, kids in therapy know what they’re there for and what therapy is about, but one person opening up to another is not a conversation; it’s a confessional, or can feel like one to a teenager who’s being pried for information. What you want is a two-way, reciprocal exchange where one person’s words (client) are of course going to be more personal and revealing than the other person’s (therapist) but are met with a genuine emotional responsiveness that leaves them feeling accompanied.
  1. Another thing is to change the question from, “How do I get this kid to open up to me in session?” to “As a therapist, how can I show up as informed and interesting enough myself so that this kid actually wants to talk with me? This changes everything about the quality of the therapeutic relationship, as well as of the ensuing therapy itself. Think about the parts of your personality that have come forward and helped kids connect to you. Are there others?
  1. Remove any pressure your teen client might be feeling in the beginning of sessions to get some kind of conversation started. That’s our job, and by learning how to make easy, kind, and maybe even witty “cocktail chatter” with new clients especially, we can help kids in our offices settle in and relax into a conversation with you that feels organic and unstrained. If a kid takes a Captain Crunch Berries Cereal Bar from my snack bowl, I might confess that I sometimes eat Captain Crunch for breakfast and then swear him to secrecy. If a kid takes a liking to my pit bull, Harper (who, by the way, comes with me every day to the office), I might share her back story and talk about different dogs I’ve had over the years as well as ask what they might have at home in terms of pets. Then, it’s, Well, who in your family picked the type of dog you all were going to get? Who got to name him? Did you have a different name or breed you would have preferred? What happened to your vote? Are there other times when your vote about something taking place at home got lost in the mix or dismissed out of hand? What happened there? Now you and your client are having a conversation, and it’s a good and real and engaging one that stands a good chance of morphing into another good one.

The more relaxed you can be in your own skin when talking with adolescents, and the more naturally you can draw them into conversations (or even just short exchanges) that they experience as relevant to the things keeping them up at night, the more engagement, respect and trust you’re likely to see from your teenage clients. Most of them really want our help and know they need it, but we have to be offering services these kids can take advantage of that are absent the awkwardness and self-consciousness (on the part of both parties!) that, historically, has been associated with adolescent therapy.

— Janet Sasson Edgette