Editor's note: This article was originally published by Uplift.
The adolescent years are complicated for many reasons. Youths are no longer children but not quite adults yet — developmentally or legally. This creates unique challenges for teen therapy.
As a child becomes an adolescent, it is important that parents and clinicians support their growing independence and autonomy. Part of that support is creating a “zone of privacy” around teen therapy. In the age of teletherapy, the importance of that zone of privacy is even more important.
The zone of privacy has two features: 1) protecting the confidentiality of the teen-therapist relationship as much as possible; and 2) helping the teen create a private space for engaging in therapy.
As noted by the American Psychological Association, there are legal, clinical and ethical issues at play when considering how much to protect teens’ confidentiality in therapy. While parents of teens may want to know what their teen is talking about in therapy, it is important to protect the confidentiality of the therapy relationship. Therapy is most effective when a trusting relationship exists between the teen and the clinician. Privacy is especially important in earning and keeping that trust. As a result, it is important that teens feel free to discuss personal matters without fear that their thoughts and feelings will be immediately communicated to their parents. This is particularly true for adolescents who are naturally developing a greater sense of independence and autonomy.
For teens ages 13 and older, many clinicians have a policy to provide parents with general information about their child’s treatment, but NOT to share specific information without the teen’s consent. This may include activities and behavior that you would not approve of — or might be upset by — but that do not put your child at risk of serious and immediate harm. However, if the teen’s behavior becomes more serious or puts them in danger, then clinicians will, of course, communicate immediately with parents. This nuanced view of confidentiality with teen therapy balances the reasonable teen need for independence and trust in the privacy of their therapy relationship with the understandable parent need to be assured of their teen’s safety.
Ensuring privacy in teletherapy
Historically, when a teen starts a therapy session, they are in a discrete office space with their therapist where they feel like they can talk and open up privately. However, when these sessions turn virtual, that private space is no longer a given. To make sure that your teen is getting the most out of their teletherapy session, so here are 10 ideas to help you and your teen:
1. Have a conversation with your teen.
Talking with your teen about starting teletherapy will allow you to express your intention to support their privacy at home and to find out what exactly privacy means to them. Let your teen know that you recognize how important it is for them to continue to have access to a private space for therapy. Also, make sure to explicitly ask your child what elements of privacy are most important to them. This will allow you and your teen to work together to create a private space that meets everyone’s needs.
2. Prepare a private space for your teen to use.
Create a space where your teen can close the door and know that no one is going to enter. The space can be your teen’s bedroom, your bedroom or even a walk-in closet. Make sure to keep an eye on siblings or anyone else who might enter your teen’s “zone of privacy” and keep them away during the session. Test the Wi-Fi or cell connection before your teen’s session!
3. Make their private space cozy and comfortable.
Use blankets, pillows, special lighting or a comfortable chair to make their safe space comfortable and inviting. If possible, let your teen decorate the space themselves.
4. Hang a “do not disturb” sign.
Have your teen put up a “do not disturb” sign on their closed door when they are in their therapy session. This can help with remembering that your teen is in a therapy session and does not want anyone to enter.
5. Create white noise.
Have your teen place a sound machine, fan or cell phone with a white noise app on the inside of the room that they are going to be using for therapy. Put the sound machine right up against the door, and let your teen turn up the sound machine as high as they are comfortable with (as long as both your teen and their therapist can still hear each other).
6. Use headphones.
Have your teen use headphones during their therapy session. If you want to make your teen feel extra secure, put some headphones on yourself and play music. You can also wear earplugs to make sure your teen knows you’re not trying to listen in.
7. Go for a walk or run errands while your teen is speaking with their therapist.
If your home’s layout makes it difficult for you and your teen to be in separate rooms, consider going for a walk around your neighborhood or running errands during the time allotted for your teen to be in a therapy session. If you are leaving the house, make sure to keep an eye on your cell phone in case your teen or their therapist needs to contact you.
8. Give your teen a cell phone to use.
If your teen has their own cell phone, have them use that for their therapy session. If not, give them your cell phone to use to ensure that no one is listening in (which could happen on a landline).
9. Soundproof the door with a draft stopper.
Gaps under doors let sound through. You can help to soundproof a door by either purchasing or making a homemade draft stopper. A rolled-up towel is a great option.
10. If all else fails, a family car can be a great soundproof ‘therapy room.’
Though it may be daunting at first, we hope that creating a zone of privacy can also be a fun project for you and your teen. Make sure to include your teen when creating their zone of privacy, and feel free to get a little creative and crafty!