Can Parents Compel Their Child to Attend Therapy?

By Sarah Earles, MS, LPC, NCC | June 14, 2024

Mental health therapy is a resource: for parents, children, teens, and families. In some cases, parents enroll children in therapy against their wills. Whatever their reasons, the children just don’t want to go, but the parents make them. Can the parents really force them to do this? Or do the children (and teenagers) have some choice in the matter? The answer is nuanced.

Parents do have legal decision-making abilities for their children until the children reach age of majority. [This is the age of adulthood in the state (Office for Civil Rights, n.d.).] This means not only that parents have to consent for their children to receive services, but also that parents technically have rights to medical records (Des Marais, 2022; McNary, 2014; Miller, 2013). For this reason, it is important for parents and children to know the laws and regulations related to treatment in their states. Consent aside, can parents force children to go to therapy? Yes…and no.

When children are minors, parents make decisions for them. This means that parents can take children to therapy or treatment (Evolve, 2020). Parents can even take lawful (e.g. not abusive) steps such as hiring a transport service to take children or teens to services. This is not to say that parents can force children to participate, however. Participation is up to the child.

The therapy session is where children actually have choice. Therapy works best if children think that the service can help them, and therefore, they participate (Miller, 2013). Children forced to engage in therapy may grow to resent parents and the therapeutic process as well (Care to Change, 2019; Lear, 2021). This may harm relationships and prevent the effective use of therapy as a resource in the future. Still, if parents truly believe that their children are in danger, as in the cases of suicidality or self-harm, they have an obligation to take the children to get help, whether the children want it or not. Once there, however; the children choose whether or not to participate.

Forced therapy is never the best therapy. That’s for sure. Whether or not parents should “force” their children (or teens) to go to therapy depends. The best-case scenario would be for parents to talk with their children about opposition to therapy. Then together the family can decide on the best course of action, because the best course of action is always the one done with agreement and unity.

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Mental health therapy is a resource: for parents, children, teens, and families. In some cases, parents enroll children in therapy against their wills. Whatever their reasons, the children just don’t want to go, but the parents make them. Can the parents really force them to do this? Or do the children (and teenagers) have some choice in the matter? The answer is nuanced.

Parents do have legal decision-making abilities for their children until the children reach age of majority. [This is the age of adulthood in the state (Office for Civil Rights, n.d.).] This means not only that parents have to consent for their children to receive services, but also that parents technically have rights to medical records (Des Marais, 2022; McNary, 2014; Miller, 2013). For this reason, it is important for parents and children to know the laws and regulations related to treatment in their states. Consent aside, can parents force children to go to therapy? Yes…and no.

When children are minors, parents make decisions for them. This means that parents can take children to therapy or treatment (Evolve, 2020). Parents can even take lawful (e.g. not abusive) steps such as hiring a transport service to take children or teens to services. This is not to say that parents can force children to participate, however. Participation is up to the child.

The therapy session is where children actually have choice. Therapy works best if children think that the service can help them, and therefore, they participate (Miller, 2013). Children forced to engage in therapy may grow to resent parents and the therapeutic process as well (Care to Change, 2019; Lear, 2021). This may harm relationships and prevent the effective use of therapy as a resource in the future. Still, if parents truly believe that their children are in danger, as in the cases of suicidality or self-harm, they have an obligation to take the children to get help, whether the children want it or not. Once there, however; the children choose whether or not to participate.

Forced therapy is never the best therapy. That’s for sure. Whether or not parents should “force” their children (or teens) to go to therapy depends. The best-case scenario would be for parents to talk with their children about opposition to therapy. Then together the family can decide on the best course of action, because the best course of action is always the one done with agreement and unity.

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References

Care to Change. (2019, October 7). Forcing your kids to go to counseling… https://caretochange.org/forcing-you-kids-to-go-to-counseling/

Des Marais, S. (2022, May 12). Parent involvement in child therapy: All you need to know. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/lib/should-parents-stay-with-their-children-in-therapy

Evolve. (2020, June 14). Can my parents force me to go to therapy or rehab? https://evolvetreatment.com/blog/parents-force-me-therapy-rehab/

Lear, K. (2021, June 17). Child counseling in Davidson. Katie Lear. https://www.katielear.com/child-therapy-blog/2021/5/23/my-child-doesnt-want-to-go-to-therapy

References

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. (2015). Code of Ethics. Retrieved from https://www.aamft.org/Legal_Ethics/ Code_of_Ethics.aspx

American Counseling Association. (2014). ACA code of ethics. Retrieved from http://www.counseling.org/docs/ethics/ 2014-aca-code-of-ethics.pdf

National Association of Social Workers. (2021). Code of Ethics. Retrieved from https://www.socialworkers.org/About/ Ethics/Code-of-Ethics/Code-of-Ethics-English

Schmerling, R.H. (2020, June 22). First, do no harm. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/first -do-no-harm-201510138421