One of the most common topics often brought up in therapy sessions is “How do I tell my parents I’m taking therapy?” and as a psychologist I’m always curious to understand the motivations behind wanting to tell your parents about therapy. I like to broach the subject with the question, “What would change for you, if you could tell your parents about taking therapy?” The responses I get often fall into two categories, for some of us it is about being able to share your struggle with a loved one and for some of us, it is about a sense of validation that it is okay to take therapy if my parents agree. And rightly so. Therefore, the first step when deciding whether to tell your parents about you going to therapy is to understand your own motivation for it.
In my experience as a psychologist, most of the times parents are unable to understand the role therapy can play because it is like the fear of the unknown. One is because such a service was not known in their time and they were more often than not forced to suffer in silence. It has been found that mere psycho-education about what therapy entails can help relieve a lot of these concerns the parents have.
The second is, they view it as a failure of their parenting that their child has now had to seek ‘outside help’ ergo, therapy. So it is important to help them understand how your mental health struggles are not always a reflection of their parenting but instead an illness that can be treated. So the second step is to understand their concerns and perspectives so you can address it with them.
Mental health is not a much talked about issue at home, sharing your innermost thoughts with your parents is not a regular practice and when coupled with the societal stigma around mental health; can deter the best of us to discuss the option of therapy. Owing to such an environment around mental health, you will also have biases about how your parents will react. So attempt acknowledge your own biases and walk into that conversation with an open mind. More often than not, our parents can pleasantly surprise us.
Taking care of so many perspectives can force us to feel like there is a need to justify our illness as opposed to if this were a physical problem. But unfortunately, information surrounding mental health is lesser and so more often than not, the responsibility falls on the person who is seeking help to explain to others what therapy is all about. It helps to look at it more as a need to educate than a need to justify yourself.
And if you find none of this being a viable option for you, reach out to your therapist who can adequately help to address all these concerns with your parents. In fact, educating both you and your loved ones about the problem and how therapy will help is a crucial part of therapy and any therapist’s job.