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Building Rapport With Teens So They Talk In Therapy

family therapy tools teens Feb 01, 2023

Building Rapport With Teens So They Talk In Therapy

Teenagers are often reluctant to talk in therapy. Getting them to talk can be a challenge. Here are some tips for overcoming this challenge and getting the teen to open up while building rapport.

If a teenager doesn't want to talk but has come to therapy because they need to talk, something is going on. So it's our job to determine the best way to improve engagement and encourage conversation.

This is the therapeutic alliance and is crucial for creating an environment where teens feel safe enough to share their thoughts and feelings with you.

(Pssst! t's nearly the Holidays! ) Check out our ideas for good gift for a therapist here

However, teens can be cold as ice, and getting them talking can be challenging. They may be reluctant to talk about their problems, or they might not feel comfortable sharing their feelings with you. They might also worry about what you will think of them if they open up about their struggles, or what their friends will think if they share that kind of information with a therapist (or anyone at all).

You'll want to ask questions that encourage your teen clientele to open up and you should know that they will most often be expecting the typical therapist questions and if they've not been to therapy before, this is based on what they've seen on tv and social media.

If the teen in therapy with you is more willing to be there- ie, they've not been forced to be there by parents, I recommend you to start encouraging the client to talk about themself.

Questions like:

  • What do you like best about yourself?
  • What are three things that make life worth living for you?
  • If money were no object and anything was possible, what would be some things on your bucket list right now?
  • Asking them to share a playlist or a piece of music they're into right now is a play they won't be expecting.

However, teenagers are most often reluctant to talk in therapy and understanding why is going to be important for you both.

They may be worried about what will happen if they open up, or they might fear that their therapist will not understand them. Teenagers also feel judged by the therapist and are afraid of being judged by others outside of the therapy room as well.

You should also check out this blog post on working with teens in therapy and what happens when they say I DONT KNOW a lot. 

Remember that teens often lack the language to express what is going on for them, so this is a test of your understanding of nonverbal cues. Teens don't always know how to express themselves clearly, especially when it comes to emotions and feelings that are difficult for them to talk about. In these situations, asking questions can help build therapeutic relationships between teens and their therapists--but sometimes silence is also fine as it allows teens time on their own terms. I'll also risk saying something a bit controversial here, and I would check with your supervisor on this before you go do this, but wondering out loud if the teen is feeling a certain way is often very helpful for me.

" I wonder if you're feeling mad at your Mom right now? You've not said it, but certainly, the way you're talking about her makes me wonder if you are?"

It's important to let them correct you if they disagree, and even more important not to push back (even if you know you're right). That's a little bit of 'rolling with the resistance'.

How to get the teen talking in therapy?

There's a course available for new therapists on My People Patterns that you might enjoy, it's filled with practical questions on a PDF you can take into the sessions and a video from me talking about my experience. If you don't know me, I've worked with teens and families my entire career and was the Clinical Director of an Adolescent Treatment Program for many years. I trained a lot of therapists in this area so the course contains some of my favorite talking points and top tips.

You can get the course here.

Some other ideas are:

  • Ask open-ended questions, such as "Tell me about your day." This allows them to talk in their own words and gives you an idea of what's going on in their life.
  • Make good eye contact with the teen during therapy sessions so they feel comfortable opening up to you. But not SO intense that come across as being too intense.
  • You should also keep good body language while listening to what they have to say--you don't want them feeling like they're being judged or criticized by you!
  • Use a casual tone of voice when speaking with teenagers because this will make them feel more comfortable opening up about whatever is on their minds at that moment in time. If possible, try smiling at times too so that your facial expression matches up nicely with how warmly you're speaking (it shows sincerity).
  • Use humor. Humor is one of the best ways to break through the barriers of silence and hesitation that teenagers often display during therapy sessions. A good joke or playful banter, can help you connect with your client on an emotional level, making them feel more comfortable opening up about their thoughts and feelings. I'm often self-deprecating and goofy in a way I'm not with adults.
  • Use silence as an opportunity for reflection instead of as an awkward pause where nothing gets done (or said). This can be especially useful when working with younger clients who might benefit from some time to think over what you've just said before responding with another question or comment--and who might also be less inclined towards long-winded explanations anyway!
  • Ask questions rather than tell them what's wrong with them or how they should feel about something; let them do most or all of the talking so they have space within themselves where self-discovery takes place naturally without needing someone else's input firsthand.*

Rapport building with teenage clients

Talking about your problems can be hard. Sometimes, even the most well-meaning therapist can't get a teenager to open up. This isn't because the teen is uncooperative or doesn't want to talk; it's that talking about things that are upsetting or embarrassing can make them feel uncomfortable and afraid of what you will think about them if they tell you something personal. They might also not know how to express themselves in words, especially if English isn't their first language (or second).

If this happens during your first session with a new therapist, don't give up hope! You may have found someone who's great at helping people open up over time--but if not...there are other options!

How do I make a connection with my teenage clients?

To connect with your teenage clients, you need to show interest in them. Use open-ended questions and let them talk about themselves. Ask about their interests and hobbies, their family life and their relationships with friends.

Be patient as they may be reluctant to open up at first; it takes time for young people (and adults!) to trust someone enough for them to feel comfortable sharing personal information with that person. If you've been working together for some time without making much progress on your goals for therapy sessions, consider inviting the teen's parents into the next session so they can explain why they think their child isn't talking much or feel comfortable opening up during counseling sessions alone with you.

Another way of showing interest is by sharing personal experiences related directly or indirectly by way of analogy--this helps build rapport between yourself and your client(s). For example: "When I was growing up my mom would always tell me not worry too much about things because 'time heals all wounds.' And now that I'm older myself..." I don't think you should reveal anything too personal, I don't think you even have to be very specific. If this unnerves you (I'm psychoanalytically trained, so this is a big no-go for me with adult clients) talk about someone else - a made-up person or 'another client' (that is in quotes because I don't mean literally talk about another client).

The therapeutic alliance is the working relationship between you and your teen client. It's what helps them feel safe and comfortable enough to open up about their problems, which can be challenging for anyone, but especially for teens. If your teen client doesn't feel like they can trust and connect with you, then chances are good that he or she won't want to talk about anything at all during therapy sessions (or even come back).

Shifting the focus from opening up to asking questions can help build stronger therapeutic relationships

Opening up is not always easy for teenagers. If your teen is struggling with opening up, you can help by asking questions. Asking questions about the things they are struggling with, their interests, goals and dreams will help build stronger therapeutic relationships by getting them talking about themselves. They may also feel more comfortable sharing personal information when they know that it won't be judged or criticized by you as a therapist.

It's important to remember that silence is a valid response. Asking teenagers questions can be difficult, as they may not know how to answer or even if they want to talk about what's going on in their lives. If you don't get an answer from them right away, it doesn't mean that your question wasn't important or that there isn't anything that needs addressing. Instead of pushing for more information or making assumptions about why they haven't responded yet (or at all), here are some tips on how you can help them think through their experience:


As a therapist, your goal is to help your teen client overcome their communication challenges and feel comfortable talking with you. There are many ways that therapists can get teenagers talking during sessions and help them build stronger therapeutic relationships. The first step is to make sure they know it's OK if they don't want to answer your question yet or at all - silence is fine! From there, try shifting the focus from opening up to asking questions (and making sure those questions are relevant). Finally, remember that humor can be an effective tool when working with teens because it makes things less serious while still creating an environment where everyone feels safe enough express themselves freely."



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