Engaging Reluctant Adolescents and Their Parents

  • Valentín Escudero
  • Myrna L. Friedlander
Part of the Focused Issues in Family Therapy book series (FIFT)


Adolescents are typically not self-referred, and their developmental stage is characterized by a surge in autonomy seeking, from adults in general and from parents in particular. Quite often, the family therapy context is initially experienced by the adolescent as belonging to the world of adults/parents, and, indeed, in many cases parents view all the family’s difficulties as due to the adolescent’s attitude or misbehavior. The predictable result of this contradictory interpretation of the therapeutic process is a strong challenge to the alliance. In this chapter, we describe strategies for facilitating adolescents’ and parents’ engagement in conjoint treatment, which include (a) “rolling with” initial resistance and validating the adolescent’s subjective experiences, (b) fostering autonomy and individuation, (c) building systemic awareness by reframing the problem systemically, and (d) empowering the parental system. An extended case example describes, through excerpted dialogue, the difficult process of facilitating engagement in a challenging case in which the parents describe their adolescent daughter as “a problem for the family” due to her anxious and excessive use of her smartphone to continuously chat and monitor her social networks. This example illustrates the therapist’s interventions (e.g., dividing the time of the session to combine separate conversations with the adolescent and with the parents without losing the systemic focus) in order to reduce the adolescent’s defensive attitude and the anxious and blaming attitude of the parents. Key to building the alliance was “reframing” the problem by including the bidirectional effect of the parent-adolescent conflict and the couple’s relationship crisis.


Adolescent-parents conflict Therapy hostage attitude Adolescent autonomy Empowering parental system Reframing Subjective experience Reluctance to therapy Risk behavior 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Valentín Escudero
    • 1
  • Myrna L. Friedlander
    • 2
  1. 1.University of A CoruñaA CoruñaSpain
  2. 2.University at Albany/SUNYAlbanyUSA

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