Mental Health
How To Tell Your Parents That You Want To Go To Therapy

How To Tell Your Parents That You Want To Go To Therapy

7 min read


Caitlin Harper

Social stigma, cultural differences, and our own ideas about mental health mean that talking about mental health can be difficult—and it can be even harder to open up with our own families and tell our parents that we want to go to therapy. Will they get mad? Sad? Tell us that it’s all in our heads or that we should just get over it?

The truth is, they might. Wanting to go to therapy is completely normal and valid, but that doesn’t make the conversation less difficult.

Whether you’re a teen or want to have a conversation with your parents about going to therapy at any age, here are some ways you can prepare for the conversation.

Understanding the importance of discussing therapy

It's crucial to emphasize the significance of open communication within the family, especially when it comes to mental health. Ignoring this topic can have detrimental effects on family relationships and individual well-being. By talking about therapy, you are acknowledging the importance of addressing mental health concerns and striving for improvement.

Therapy still carries a stigma in many cultures, and this stigma often makes it challenging for people to seek help. Address common misconceptions about therapy, such as the idea that only people with severe mental illness need it. Share information about how therapy can benefit individuals dealing with various issues, from everyday stress to complex emotional challenges.

Reducing the stigma surrounding therapy benefits everyone in the family. By destigmatizing it, you create a more supportive environment that encourages open conversations about mental health.

Preparing yourself to talk to your family

Before approaching your parents about therapy, take some time for self-reflection. Understand your own feelings and emotions regarding therapy. Consider why you believe it's essential and what you hope to achieve by discussing it with your parents. Are you looking for their support, understanding, or just to inform them about your decision to seek therapy? Having a clear objective will help structure your thoughts. Setting clear goals for the conversation will also help you stay focused and maintain a constructive dialogue.

Knowledge can be a key ally when discussing therapy with your parents. Research different therapy options and understand various therapeutic approaches. Be prepared to answer any questions your parents might have. Having this knowledge will help you feel more confident and allow you to provide informative and reassuring answers.

Writing your thoughts down in advance can also be helpful in preparation for a future conversation. When writing your thoughts, use empathetic and non-confrontational language. Avoid blaming or making your family feel defensive. For example, "I've been feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and I believe therapy could help me" is more effective than "You make me stressed, and I need therapy because of you." After you’ve written down your thoughts, practice delivering the words aloud. This can help you become more comfortable with the message you want to convey and reduce nervousness during the actual conversation.

If your family doesn’t talk about mental health or you have no idea what your parents’ opinions on the subject are, it could be helpful to gently test the waters before having a serious conversation. You can begin by sharing general resources, news stories, or commentary on mental health issues and topics ahead of time, like these mindfulness tips for parents or this Q&A about everything parents need to know about not messing up their kids. A quick text with a link saying something like, “Hey, I thought this article was interesting. What do you think?” can help you gauge their potential reaction when you bring up the subject.

When is the right time to talk to your family?

Picking the right time to discuss therapy is crucial. Choose a moment when your parents are relaxed and not overwhelmed with other responsibilities. Avoid bringing up the subject during arguments or emotionally charged situations. A calm atmosphere will make it easier for your parents to engage in the conversation.

Select a comfortable and quiet environment for the discussion. Eliminate potential distractions and create a safe space where everyone can speak openly. A comfortable setting can help keep the conversation focused and respectful.

Lastly, begin the conversation by sharing your own feelings and struggles. Being open and vulnerable about your experiences can set a compassionate tone and help your parents understand your perspective. Explain why you believe therapy is necessary and what you hope to achieve through it.

If you don’t live with your parents or you can’t talk to them in person, schedule a video chat or call ahead of time instead of contacting them without notice. Say that you have something you want to talk to them about so they can prepare a private, quiet place on their end.

How do you start the conversation?

It can be really hard to talk about our thoughts and feelings, especially when we are in pain mentally, physically, or emotionally. If you don’t know exactly what’s going on, how can you explain it to someone else? The good news is, you don’t have to share every detail, answer every question, or have the perfect explanation. You can share exactly as much as you’re comfortable sharing. 

When you’re ready to talk, you can begin by saying something like “I need to tell you something about what’s been going on with me because I want you to be involved and I think it’s important for you to know. I’m struggling with things at school and I think a therapist could help me,’” Here are additional tips to help you begin the conversation with your loved ones:

Prepare Yourself Emotionally

Before you initiate the conversation, take a moment to prepare yourself emotionally. It's normal to feel nervous or anxious about discussing therapy with your family. Engage in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or a short walk to center yourself and reduce anxiety.

Use "I" Statements

Start the conversation with "I" statements to express your feelings and concerns. For instance, you might say, "I've been feeling stressed and overwhelmed lately," or "I've been thinking a lot about my well-being." "I" statements convey that you are taking ownership of your emotions and experiences.

It might be hard to not blame your parents or bring up things they have done, but try to keep from blaming or accusing them and focus on yourself. Double down on what it would mean for you to get the support you need. If the conversation doesn’t seem to be going well, step away, let them sit with their thoughts, and try having the conversation again when things have cooled down.

Be Honest and Open

Honesty is key. Share the reasons behind your consideration of therapy, and be candid about any personal experiences or struggles that have led you to this decision. Being open and vulnerable can encourage empathy from your family and help them understand your perspective more deeply.

Encourage Questions

Welcome questions and concerns from your family. Let them know that you're open to addressing any uncertainties or misconceptions they may have about therapy. Encouraging questions promotes a healthy and open dialogue. If you can’t answer all of their questions or you don’t think you have the right terminology for everything you’re feeling, that’s okay. Just express yourself in the way that is easiest and most comfortable for you.

Remember, initiating a conversation about therapy may take time, and your family's response may not be immediate. Be patient and open to ongoing discussions as you work together to understand each other's perspectives and create a supportive environment for your mental health.

What if your family has a Negative Reaction?

It's important to anticipate that your parents may react with denial or other strong emotions. Be mentally prepared for these reactions and avoid confrontation. Remember that their reactions do not necessarily reflect their final stance on the matter.

During a difficult conversation, it's essential to remain patient and understanding. Avoid escalating the situation by arguing or becoming defensive. Instead, give your parents the space and time to process the information. Offer reassurance and let them know that you're available to discuss it further when they're ready.

Understand that your parents’ reaction might have nothing to do with you and your personal situation. They might be dealing with known or unknown mental health struggles themselves, there might be cultural stigma or past trauma that makes the mental health discussion difficult for them, or they might assume that your experience means that they’ve been bad parents. They might be sad that you’re struggling or guilty that they didn’t notice sooner. It’s hard to know what is going on in someone else’s head. If you’re able to do so, you could ask them a few questions to explore their feelings and see if you can adjust your strategy.

Clarify Your Personal Need for Support

It can be helpful to make it clear that your primary goal is to improve your own mental well-being. Share that you are seeking therapy to enhance your support system, not to isolate yourself from your family. Emphasize that the purpose of therapy is to strengthen your mental well-being and, by extension, your relationships with them.

By consistently using language that centers on your feelings, needs, and well-being, you remind your family that the primary focus of the conversation is about your mental health and personal development. This approach can help clarify your intentions and alleviate any concerns or misconceptions they may have.

Whether you decide to go to therapy right now or not, there are free mental health resources available to you now

If you’re struggling, you don’t need to wait to talk to your parents or find the right therapist for you. Crisis Text Line is available in the US, Canada, UK, and Ireland at 741741 for free and confidential support. In New York City, you can access NYC Well via text at 65173 or by phone at 1-888-NYC-WELL. In addition, you can access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 and in an emergency, you should always dial 911. MyWellbeing also has pages of free resources, low fee and insurance resources, and crisis resources.

Whatever happens with your parents, know that help is out there. We care about you and we want you to find the mental health support you need and deserve. It’s completely normal and healthy to seek therapy and it shows great courage to have difficult conversations and take those first steps. You got this, and we’re right here with you.

How to find a therapist

If you're unsure about how to get started, check out our ultimate guide to starting therapy and match with a therapist that specializes in supporting others like you.

The match form takes less than 5 minutes to complete, and you'll immediately receive 3 provider recommendations that fit your needs. All of the providers on MyWellbeing offer a free phone consultation to assess fit and see if you two should work together.

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About the author

Caitlin is an organizational change strategist, advisor, writer, and the founder of Commcoterie, a change management communication consultancy. She helps leaders and the consultants who work with them communicate change for long-lasting impact. Caitlin is a frequent speaker, workshop facilitator, panelist, and podcast guest on topics such as organizational change, internal communication strategy, DEIBA, leadership and learning, management and coaching, women in the workplace, mental health and wellness at work, and company culture. Find out more, including how to work with her, at

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