Minors’ Ability to Give Informed Consent and Identifying Risks and Benefits of Talk Therapy

Ongoing discussion has been continuing for at least the past 30 years as to whether minors can give informed consent to therapy. And although this remains in itself a very large issue among therapists and clients, the issue of whether minors can identify the same risks and benefits of talk therapy as adults, too, continues to be probed.

The issue of whether minors can give informed consent—an issue that continues to be discussed—was raised in the early 1980s among researchers. In a study published in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, researchers noted: “The ability to think about risks and benefits of psychotherapy is an important component of the information processing basic to the ability to give informed consent. In many states,” the authors continue,” “minors can now consent to psychological treatment, independent of their parents, in situations, for example, involving drug or alcohol addiction, pregnancy, or sexual abuse, situations in which obtaining parental consent might jeopardize the likelihood of minors to seek help.”

Of course, it remains important for minors, as well as adults, in general, to seek out professional help when they think they may need it. In the aforementioned study, the researchers found “that children may not identify the same risks and benefits that adults believe they will.” In other words, minors will identify a different set of concerns about the risks and benefits of therapy. “They indicated,” the authors of the study write, “concerns that appear to be relevant to their practical situations and consistent with their developmental needs.”

That said, however, not all minors may be able to identify the risks and benefits of therapy as well as give informed consent. Researchers note: “Youngsters judged to have psychological problems (e.g., emotional disturbances, developmental disabilities, learning disabilities) are widely seen as not competent to make well-informed decisions about their need for treatment.” So, among mental health professionals, it’s important to remember that minors do not constitute a homogenous group, and the mental health needs of one child may not be the same mental health needs of another.
All of this remains important, however, because “[t]he ability to think about the risks and benefits of therapy would seem to be an important base from which other aspects of reasoning about treatment develop.” Put simply, if an individual is able to clearly identify the risks and benefits of therapy, he or she may be able to then seek out therapy when they need it or in a crisis situation.

Finally, although whether or not minors can give informed consent may be contingent upon individual state laws in the United States, the question continues to remain important for mental health professionals and the public alike.

Kaser-Boyd, N., Alderman, H. S., Taylor, L. (1985). Minors’ Ability to Identify Risks and benefits of Therapy. Professional Psychology: Practice and Research, Vol. 16, No. 3, 411-417.

Brooke Lamberti

Brooke Lamberti is a content writer based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Marywood University, and has prior career experience working in social work and domestic violence advocacy. She has a passion for writing and helping others.

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