There are, of course, all kinds of adolescents. And, also, just as with individuals of different ages, there are times when one feels more like talking and others when one doesn’t feel like talking. And most parents have probably had a time or two with an adolescent child that would not talk with them.
The same is true in psychotherapy with an adolescent. Sometimes they talk, even talk a lot, and sometimes they don’t. And some individual adolescents talk more in therapy and some talk less. It is one of the most difficult times in psychotherapy when an adolescent will not talk in psychotherapy. Psychotherapy usually is talk therapy, and when someone comes and then doesn’t talk, in a situation where to talk is the point of it all, it is a problem. It can throw the therapist for a loop. It can be very powerful to not talk.
So what to do as a therapist with an adolescent that won’t talk? (Similarly, what to do as a parent of an adolescent that won’t talk?) Often the best course of action to “work” with an adolescent that won’t talk is to join him or her in something that does not involve talking, we might call it “parallel play.” You could, as a therapist (or parent), get exasperated and frustrated and just give up, but that might be what the adolescent wants you to do, and that might be giving the adolescent too much power. Just because someone has figured out that she or he can be quiet for a long time doesn’t mean that you should give in to her or him. But to disengage completely is often the wrong decision. The adolescent may want you to just go away. But can you be stronger, can you be there and be involved in some quiet way? In therapy, there are times when the best way to work with an adolescent is to be with him or her but not press the issues, really, to give him or her time to be with you and not have to talk. So you may find that what appears to be “not a lot” is happening in therapy, not much if anything is being talked about. But something else is happening: a relationship continues to occur, the adolescent is not forced to talk, a waiting is happening until the adolescent will talk.
Can you join your adolescent on a regular basis in some activity (a TV show, a video game, a chore, a meal at a place of her or his choosing) and not expect any talk, and not make any demands on the adolescent? Sometimes, the best therapy with an adolescent is patiently spending time with her or him, whether that is done by a therapist or a parent.