6 Reasons Why Your Child or Teen’s Counseling Isn’t Helping

I recently polled the moms and dads in my facebook group to ask what blog posts they would like to read this year. One of the parents asked “Why is my child is not improving in therapy?” which spurred me to write this blog post. Please contact me if you have any suggestions or questions; I’m happy to get requests! Now on to our post . . .

You’re exhausted. And you feel like you’ve been down the same road so many times only to come to the same place…tantrums, hitting, name calling, cussing, and raw, hurt feelings. At these low points, you ask yourself, “Why is this happening? How are we here —again.”
There are a few things to consider to insure your traumatized, adopted or foster child/teen and family are moving in the right direction to heal past hurts. First, let’s assume you’ve already answered the question, ‘Should my child see a therapist?’ and are
in therapy with a good therapist who is specifically trained to work with kids or teens with trauma and/or loss. Take a look at THIS blog post to find out more information on how to choose a capable therapist for your traumatized, adopted or foster child or teen.
Second, you may wonder, ‘How long should it take before I see results in my child/teen’s therapy?’ It typically takes at least 3 to 6 months to see some changes in your child’s decisions and behavior. Then, it may be 6 months to a year . . . or longer to see significant healing for a child who has a history of past trauma (neglect, physical/emotional/sexual abuse) or abandonment.
Even when your child is seeing a competent therapist, there are more questions you can ask to assist in the therapy process. Some questions include:
‘What is the treatment method you are using in my child/teen’s therapy?’
‘Is there anything I can do to increase the effectiveness of my child/teen’s therapy?’
‘Do I or my husband/wife need to work on our parenting skills or other unresolved issues?’
Answering these questions in an honest way can significantly add to your child or teen’s counseling. Finally, if have a good, qualified therapist; and have been in therapy for a significant period of time, let’s look at some other reasons your child is not “getting better” from counseling.
**Before we begin, I want to give you a heads up…some of this post may be unnerving and hard to read; and for some of you it may make perfect sense and provide the missing pieces to your child’s puzzle.

Photo by Polina Zimmerman on
  1. Mental IllnessYour child or teen may have an undiagnosed or unrecognized mental illness. This can occur for a couple reasons: your child or teen may meet some of the criteria for a mental health diagnosis but not have enough symptoms to meet the full diagnosis. 
In addition, some mental illnesses start early in life as one disorder and later develop into a different, more debilitating disorder. As an example, a child may begin early in life diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD, or Conduct Disorder; and the mental illness develops later in young adulthood or adulthood as Manic Depressive Disorder. 
Some mental illnesses only cause mild interference with daily life while others cause significant disturbance in a person’s thinking and behavior.
  2. Nature vs. Nurture- This is the age old question, “Is a child’s behavior determined by genetics or environment?” and there are numerous research studies for both sides. While we do not have absolute evidence for either, over the years I have noticed a tilt toward a genetic predisposition of personality and behavior. 
Does that mean a child is “doomed” to travel down the road of their birth family’s past? Absolutely not! It does mean that we need to give kids and teens a “leg up” and as early in life as possible, provide them with character education, counseling, and other services as needed to avoid repeating this history.
  3. Addiction- When a child or teen is engaged in an addiction, they are not emotionally available to heal. Addiction includes: alcohol, drugs, pornography, over-shopping or buying as a coping mechanism, and over use of electronics (more than an hour a day or two hours on the weekend). Addiction needs to be addressed before healing can occur for a child or teen.
  4. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)- FASD refers to a group of conditions that are caused by a birth mother’s substance use or abuse during pregnancy. FASD can affect problems with behavior and learning. Several of these common characteristics of FASD make it more difficult for kids and teens to learn and practice coping skills: difficulty with attention, poor memory, low IQ, and poor reasoning and judgment skills. Anecdotally, I notice it takes longer for these kid or teens to learn skills though over time they are successful in their acquisition of new skills.
  5. Avoidance of feelings and past issues- Some kids and teens are very fearful of change and disclosure, and so they become extremely avoidant of working in therapy. It takes the effort of both family and therapist to gently and firmly encourage the child to be willing (a DBT skill) and cooperative in therapy sessions. Parents need to stay firm as they support their child or teen working on their issues in therapy.
  6. Unresolved Family Dynamics- Unresolved family dynamics put growth on hold. Is there a triangulation within the family? (Read more about triangulation in The Adoptive and Foster Parent Guide) Is your spouse on the same page as you about your child? Do you accommodate your child instead of setting limits on inappropriate or problematic behavior? 
When there are unresolved family dynamics it keeps the child from being able to heal. These are issues to recognize and admit even when it may feel insurmountable to do so. Healing for your child will be more likely to follow when the family dynamics are resolved.Click on the FOLLOW BLOG VIA EMAIL button on the top right side of the page to be the first to hear of new blog posts, book promotions, tips for parents, tools for therapists and information on upcoming groups for kids, teens, and parents!

    Lozier, C. (2012). The adoptive and foster parent guide: how to heal your child’s trauma
and loss. CreateSpace.


    Carol Lozier is a therapist, author, and blogger specializing in trauma; and adoptive and foster kids, teens, and adults. Ms. Lozier is in private practice in Louisville, KY.

1 thought on “6 Reasons Why Your Child or Teen’s Counseling Isn’t Helping”

  1. Thank you for the insightful and well written article. Appreciate your experience and knowledge with this vulnerable population.


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