Minors’ Ability to Give Informed Consent: Identifying Risks and Benefits to Psychotherapy

An important question that has arisen over the decades is: What is the ability of minors to give informed consent to receive psychotherapy treatment?

Research exploring this important question emerged decades ago and continues until today, and this subject touches upon professional, legal, and ethical dimensions. One early study that explores minors’ ability to give informed consent was published in the mid 1980s, but remains relevant today.

“In many states, 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,” the authors write.

The researchers continues: “Professionals from various disciplines are beginning to suggest that minors should have more freedom to participate in decisions that affect their well-being; in particular, they have the right to separate consent in situations where they are referred for treatment by parents or other third parties.”

Some of the problems faced by minors, according to the research, include: emotional disturbances, developmental disabilities, and learning disabilities. With the breakdown of the nuclear family, there may be many situations where minors may not have proper parental guidance. Some of the early research explored what minors think about psychotherapy, and this early research found that minors were able to identify risks and benefits of psychotherapy.

“The cognitive and emotional processes and capacities necessary to render fully in- formed consent are complex and not easily operationalized for experimental study,” the researchers write. “There is some agreement that one important component is the ability to focus on the risks and benefits of various courses of action.” The authors continue: “Results suggest that most of the minors were able to identify at least one risk or one benefit of therapy. Benefits and risks identified focused on relevant and practical questions that appear similar to those an adult client might identify. The younger minors were not significantly different from older minors in risks and benefits identified or the tendency to give “don’t know” responses.”

These early researchers found that about 64 percent of minors were able to see the risks and benefits of psychotherapy.

To conclude, according to research, minors are able to identify the risks and benefits to psychotherapy independent of adults or parenteral opinion. The problems faced by minors have become increasing complex, and some of these problems include mental health problems, substance abuse problems, and trauma. Research over the decades has been able to probe questions that are important for minors related to psychotherapy. Finally, various types of therapy are useful and may be helpful of individuals—minors and adults—of all ages.


Kaser-Boyd, N., Adelman, H.S., Taylor, L. (1984). Minors’ Ability to Identify Risks and Benefits of Psychotherapy. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 16(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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