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“I could help you pay for the first appointment. I’m also open to accompanying you there, if you want …”
I remembered saying these words to a friend – whom I’ll refer to by her initial, V – who was considering a therapy appointment. An advocate of therapy myself, having been in therapy for a few years now, I offered V some options in hopes of encouraging her to take the first step of booking a therapy appointment.
But I Don’t Want My Parents to Know About This
“Can I check – if I do therapy, would they require parental consent? Like, to inform my family or anything like that? I kind of want to keep it really private to myself … I’m scared of the information being told to my family – traumatised in secondary school and the experience stayed with me throughout,” V explained.
I assured her that things were different – she was no longer a 16-year-old teenager in secondary school. A university student and young adult in her 20s now, she will no longer have any obligations to disclose anything to her parents as a legal adult. Yet, I understood her un-ease and hesitance. If I’m honest, it is the privilege of privacy afforded to adults, that led me to only reconsider therapy in my 20s myself – which likewise stems from unpleasant therapy experiences as a child.
I remember being eleven years old when I attended my first therapy appointment with a child psychologist, only that I didn’t realise what I was in for at the time. My parents brought me for an appointment in a local public hospital, which they told me to be “a special service” for children which the hospital offered. I didn’t mind initially, although I felt it weird that I was sent out of the room after the session and the child psychologist would talk to my parents privately. Over time, I came to notice a strange thing – if this was a “special service”, why was it penciled into the family calendar with a specific regularity?
I can’t remember the specific issues discussed by now, but I remember how it ended – one day, at the end of the session, she offered me some stickers with Powerpuff Girls; designs on them. Not exactly what you’d offer a pre-teen, but I acknowledge she was trying. When I said they weren’t my favourite character but I liked animals instead, she offered me a set of animal stickers and told me I could collect more in the next session, until I had the full set. I felt bribed – and told my parents I was never going back again.
I grew up, and on the cusp of young adulthood, developed mental health struggles including a work adjustment disorder, which later morphed into social anxiety disorder. I still live with social anxiety disorder today, while doing my best to live a full and meaningful life with the help of therapy and medication.
Confidentiality in the Therapy Treatment of Minors
Yet, it took me more than a decade after my first experience to have the courage to seek help again. Before that, my “excuse” would be, “but I don’t want my parents to know about this” – and it wasn’t even unfounded, because parental consent is required when minors under 18 attend therapy or counselling sessions. As a young adult in my twenties, as I sought out therapy for the second time – it took me some time before I was ready to tell my parents, and for the initial few times I’d schedule it before or after a meal with friends, and tell my parents I was going out with friends instead. I don’t necessarily think it’s the best course of action, but this was a helpful option at the time for someone seeking professional help but only being comfortable telling my parents when I was ready.
Presently, I still attend therapy, although at a different public hospital from the one of my childhood experience. I am immensely thankful for my amazing psychologist, who knows my many sometimes-irrational fears – and the times my worst fears have indeed come true – but continues to validate my experiences and gently encourage me to reframe my perspectives and try new things.
Privacy Within Sessions Should Be Normalised for Everyone
More than that, I recognise the privilege of privacy I am afforded for being an adult. Yet, privacy within sessions should be normalised for everyone of all ages. As it is, a young person under 18 is required to seek parental consent when they decide to see a therapist – which to some degree, is already a lack of privacy against their will, even if as a matter of safety. This can feel very difficult, especially for teenagers who are growing to desire more privacy from their parents. This desire for privacy is not unfounded – on the contrary, privacy is part of becoming an independent and responsible adult.
On another equally important note – to parents who feel that your child may benefit from therapy, can I encourage you to be upfront with your children and not sugarcoat it or use euphemisms? While the temptation to do so is great, and likely laced with good intentions, it benefits no one in the long run. It could even backfire and lead your child to distrust both you, and
the process of therapy – the way it was for me.
Instead, tell your child in age-appropriate language what therapy is and means – a platform where they can learn to discover and manage their emotions and how they express themselves.
A Word from A Space Between
Seeking professional help for the lived experience of a mental health condition is no easy feat – and we applaud your courage! A Space Between hopes to help make your journey towards seeing a therapist smoother, easier, and less intimidating. A Space Between consists of a network of practising therapists, each with their own specialty in various fields of mental health.
If you’d like some help in getting started in therapy, feel free to reach out to the team. They offer a client-matching service, which helps put you in contact with a therapist who can best serve your needs. Reach out anytime at [email protected]!
Socially anxious introvert who likes writing, crocheting, and true crime podcasts. I cold brew tea and coffee to avoid inflated cafe prices.