Deciding to start therapy for your child can be stressful and confusing, so here are some common questions along with answers that might help lessen the stress.
How do I know if my child needs therapy?
It’s normal to worry about your kids but also not want to overreact to troubling emotions and behaviors that may simply go away. If you feel concerned, it can’t hurt to consult with a professional in children’s mental health to determine next steps, if any.
Child therapists don’t want to treat children who don’t need it, so you can share your worries and experiences with a therapist to help you decide if you should bring your child in. Sometimes your pediatrician can also help you figure out if it’s time to seek the help of a professional.
How do I choose a therapist?
I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s even hard for therapists to choose their own therapists. The decision is so much about the potential for a productive therapeutic relationship, but we can’t really predict the future. Sometimes we meet a therapist and we know right away it isn’t a good fit.
Other times we’re not sure–therapy is often an uncomfortable, anxiety-producing effort, and that’s part of the process. Finding a therapist who makes all our anxiety go away isn’t always a good thing–change requires discomfort, for kids and adults. That being said, here are some tips for finding a therapist who can help:
- If you definitely can’t pay out of pocket for a therapist, call your insurance company or search online for a list of child and adolescent therapists in your area who accept your insurance. Psychology Today’s Therapist Finder is a good start. Once you have a list, show it to others–your pediatrician, therapist friends, school counselors, teachers, clergy, or anyone else you think might have some experience with local child therapists–and see if they recognize and recommend any names.
- Ask your doula or midwife, pediatrician, clergy, friends, daycare staff, teachers, pediatrician, school counselors. Many of these members of your community will have some experience with child therapists and will give you a name to get you started.
- If you call a therapist who’s not taking new clients, ask that therapist for referrals to other trusted professionals.
- It’s a good idea to meet with several therapists before you choose, especially if therapy is new to your family. When one stands out to you, give it a few sessions to make a decision. Most therapists will tell you that after 3-4 sessions, they will check in to see if it’s a good fit.
- Feel free to call me (202-318-3958) if you have more questions about this–I’m happy to talk with you and try to help figure out how to find the right therapist for you and your child.
What will play therapy be like? Will I be in the room, too?
This is a common question, and one that is different for each family and each therapist. Play therapy runs the gamut, so some therapists work with the whole family in sessions, others see the child and parents separately, some do a combination.
In my work, I assess the needs of the child and family in the first 4-5 sessions, at which point I meet with parents to discuss my observations and recommendations for treatment, which could be dyadic work (one caregiver in the room with me and the child), triadic (two parents in the room with the child), or individual play therapy, which means I would have sessions with your child and separate parenting sessions less frequently.
I sometimes will recommend family therapy with older children and their parents and siblings if that seems to be what’s needed. Some parents bring in siblings and want me to work with both/all of the children at once, which I generally only do if the issue at hand is the sibling relationship.
I also offer the Circle of Security Parenting Program, which provides support and education for parents on attending to your child’s emotional needs.
How will a therapist work with me and my teen?
Another question many parents have, this also has many possible responses. When I begin seeing an adolescent for therapy, it really depends on what stage of adolescence, the child’s unique developmental needs, and the reason for the therapy.
For example, if a teen is coming for therapy around being transgender, the parent/s may need significant support and education about gender nonconformity and what they can do to help their teen feel loved and accepted, requiring more parent sessions and probably other resources, such as support groups, books, and organizations that serve gender variant communities.
On the other hand, if a young teen needs a neutral space to explore emotional states and anxieties or depression, I may meet less often with the family and focus more on individual work with the child. Or we may do family therapy. It just really depends. I collaborate with teens to make these decisions, helping them feel they have power at a time when they usually feel powerless.