When one parent believes their child should be in therapy but their spouse disagrees, it can be a difficult situation for both parties involved. The best case scenario is to work together to make a united decision with your child’s best interests at heart, however, this isn’t always possible. There are a variety of factors to consider before you act and make an executive decision with or without the support of your spouse.
There are many reasons why a spouse may be against your child going to therapy. It’s important to sit down and have an open, honest conversation about what the reasons are, and how the two of you can come to a decision together.
Gather as many resources as you can to support the reason you believe your child should see a therapist and the benefits it can bring.
Keep your child out of the middle of the discussion at all costs. Talk to your spouse in a safe space that is out of range of your child’s ears.
Weigh the negative implications vs. your child’s need for therapy if you are unable to agree together. Seek out alternative options that will not create further conflict in your family.
If you and/or your child are victims of abuse, it’s important to seek help immediately and utilize the resources available to you.
The statistics surrounding mental health diagnoses among children and adolescents in the US are on the rise — increasing the need for therapy among youth.
From a therapist’s perspective: The sooner you intervene with therapy for your child, the greater the chance they will have of overcoming their struggles and learning healthy coping skills they can take into adulthood.
From an attachment theory lens: Attachment injuries can happen up to the age of around seven, causing a greater chance of developing personality disorders and other mental health struggles into adulthood.
From a neurological standpoint: The prefrontal cortex of the brain continues to develop until your offspring reaches 25 to 26 years of age. During this time of growth, the brain is very moldable and the chances of correcting behavioral, mood, or thought challenges are greater than they are once an adult are old enough to rent a car.
Now, let’s discuss some strategies for talking to your spouse in the hopes of the two of you deciding together on a therapy solution that will benefit your child the most.
Set aside time to talk
It’s important to discuss the topic of your child going to therapy with your spouse during a time when they can give you their full attention, feel they are in a safe and stress-free environment and are not upset or preoccupied with anything. Ask your spouse when the best time for the two of you to sit down together and talk about it is for them, and you. Decide on where to talk together. This will be a good way to set the tone to show that the two of you can come together and work to agree on something.
Discuss one another’s belief systems
One of the best ways to mitigate the seriousness of this situation is by sitting down and having an open, honest conversation with your spouse. Be sure to speak in a calm, factual tone, and leave your emotions out of it to avoid a heated argument (which is easier said than done, but if you can, pull out every tool in your toolkit of coping skills to cool down once you feel your emotions heating up). Explore the reasons your spouse is against therapy for your child and present the reasons why you believe your child should give therapy a try. Your spouse may be against therapy due to a strong cultural bias, because of stigma, a negative personal experience, or feeling like it means they’ve failed as a parent or are threatened personally by the idea of therapy for one reason or another.
Does your child need therapy and why?
Evaluate the need your child has for therapy and why you believe there is a need. Perhaps your spouse disagrees with the reasoning behind it, but if you can explore this together and ask other adults in your child’s life such as teachers, school counselors, community leaders, daycare providers, babysitters, mentors, your primary healthcare provider, and even your child, the two of you can hopefully reach an agreement that benefits your child.
Discuss the signs and symptoms you see
Let your spouse know of any changes you’ve noticed in your child, and ask if they’ve noticed them too and what they think about it. You can turn to research from developmental psychologists if it helps to illustrate to your partner why you think the changes or symptoms you’re seeing suggest therapy could help. Speak about the positive changes therapy can bring, present new research and evidence-based methods that have been proven to work, and have a long history of research, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
If finances are a barrier
Financial reasons may contribute to your spouse being against therapy, and whether it’s covered by your insurance, if you have access to insurance. There are a variety of therapy programs that offer pro bono or donation-based services that your child may benefit from. You can search the internet for pro bono or donation-based mental health services near you or search for a non-profit organization designed to eliminate the financial barriers to mental health.
Discover the legalities surrounding your situation
Due to several reasons, there are times when a couple will not be able to reach common ground on the topic of sending their child to therapy. This could be a serious issue that could cause a need for couples therapy as well. Although chances are if your spouse is against your child going to therapy, they’ll be against the couple’s therapy also. In the US, you can take your child to therapy with only one parent’s approval, but this isn’t always recommended, as it could lead to greater conflict.
Evaluate possible negative implications
The negative implications of taking your child to therapy without the permission of your spouse should be weighed in comparison to the level of need your child has for therapeutic intervention. There may be ways to get around ‘taking your child to therapy if your partner will not budge, such as having your child see a school counselor on campus during normal school hours. Many communities are answering the increasing need for mental health care among child and adolescent populations by equipping their schools with trained MFTs, LPCCs, MSWs, PhDs, PsyD, and MDs. Look into the resources your school provides and see if there’s an opportunity for your child to talk with a school counselor once per week.
Do not put your child in the middle
Although it can be beneficial to have your child chime in with their opinion, should they feel the need for therapy, they mustn’t be present for the conversation you have with your spouse concerning the topic. Your child should not feel like they’re in the middle, or that they are the cause of any marital conflicts. This can cause more damage than good, especially when already in a state of wanting therapy. Have the conversation with your spouse in a space where your child is not present and will not be able to overhear you.
If there is abuse in the home
If you believe that your child needs therapy due to abuse in the home:
First: It’s important to seek help as soon as possible and do everything in your power to keep your child safe.
Second: This may be the reason your spouse is against your child going to therapy, as anything revealed of an abusive or neglectful nature could trigger a report to a local agency such as Child Protective Services (CPS) or The Department of Developmental Services (DDS), etc.
Third: If you are also a victim of abuse, it’s important to seek help for both you and your child. There are a variety of resources available, and you are not alone in this.
There are many reasons why a spouse may be resistant to, or firmly against the idea of sending your child to therapy. However, with some research, tact, and transparent communication, you can help your spouse see the need your child has for therapy and the benefits it can bring. Should you need extra support, there are a variety of pro bono services available for you and your child. Do not be afraid to speak out and advocate for your child and yourself.
- Journal of Anxiety Disorders. A comprehensive meta-analysis of cognitive-behavioral interventions for social anxiety disorder in children and adolescents.
- Behaviour Change. Effectiveness of CBT Versus Standard Treatment for Childhood Anxiety Disorders in a Community Clinic Setting.
- NIH. The Effectiveness of CBT in 3–7 Year Old Anxious Children: Preliminary Data.
- European Psychiatry. Effectiveness of CBT for children and adolescents with depression: A systematic review and meta-regression analysis.
- APA PsycNet. Integrating evidence-based practice, cognitive–behavior therapy, and multicultural therapy: Ten steps for culturally competent practice.
Show all references
- BMJ Journals. Evidence-based practice in cognitive–behavioural therapy.
- ERIC. Adolescent Brain Development: Current Research and the Impact on Secondary School Counseling Programs.
- Guildford Press Periodicals. Disentangling the Relationship Between Different Types of Childhood Maltreatment and Personality Disorders.
- Journal of Affective Disorders. Childhood trauma and attachment style predict the four-year course of obsessive compulsive disorder: Findings from the Netherlands obsessive compulsive disorder study.
- CDC. Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health.
- HHS. New HHS Study in JAMA Pediatrics Shows Significant Increases in Children Diagnosed with Mental Health Conditions from 2016 to 2020.