There is a frightening feeling that creeps up when realizing that your child needs more help than you can provide.
Some parents even feel guilty, wondering if it was something they did or didn’t do that is showing up as emotional distress for a child. Guilt isn’t helpful. All that matters is finding the help that will make a difference in your child’s life.
Mental health problems can feel like you’ve been blindsided when your child is showing signs of struggle. Not all kids’ therapists offer the same services, and they aren’t all built the same. So how might a parent or family navigate the process of finding help with therapy for kids to ease the pain for a kid in crisis?
Read on and get some clarity on what to expect from kid’s therapy, determining whether it is needed, and how to support your child.
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This Article Contains:
- What Does a Child Therapist Do?
- What Types of Child Therapy Are There?
- When to Seek Advice and Get Counseling?
- General Advice for Parents Taking Their Child to Therapy
- How to Explain Therapy to Kids
- How Do I Find a Therapist for Kids Near Me?
- A Take-Home Message
What Does a Child Therapist Do?
Children don’t think the way adults think. Their brains are not fully developed until around the age of 25. Parents nowadays are facing more complex problems than making sure their kids eat their vegetables and get enough rest. The issues parents are facing in the modern world would have Dr. Spock, author of Baby and Childcare, scratching his head.
Sometimes parents need additional support. A child’s behavior or emotional distress can become so disruptive to daily life that it’s time to bring in professional help. Knowing what a therapist does without scaring yourself into thinking your kid is about to be lobotomized is pretty helpful.
A child therapist is specially trained to handle emotional changes and the difficulties that might arise across developmental stages. Child therapists are trained in better understanding and teaching children to comprehend their emotions and to appropriately and healthily convey them. Through teaching and active listening, counselors help kids overcome obstacles in mental health.
One of the most helpful services a therapist can offer is providing the vocabulary for what a child is exhibiting. Most parents are not mental health professionals and may see behaviors that seem like “just being a kid,” when, in reality, they could be exhibiting symptoms of the development of generalized anxiety disorder or some other pervasive problem. Parenting is tough!
Helping a child to understand their emotions better, and their autonomy in how they handle their thoughts can change lives. There are different approaches for different ages and various presentations of behavior. Child therapy is typically more interactive and fun than what might be expected in traditional therapy.
Child therapists usually focus on behavior change through interaction and play with younger kids. Attention spans vary, and making a session interesting and sometimes physically active for a kid can help them better understand how their emotions are manifesting in their little bodies. A good therapist will actively include parents and other caregivers in developing strategies to take home and build after leaving their office.
What Types of Child Therapy Are There?
There are different types of therapy for different ages and different types of emotional difficulties. Standard talk therapy isn’t as helpful to children as it is for adults.
Therapy for kids helps in a forward motion, allowing kids to develop strategies for showing up as confident, adjusted, and fully capable humans.
Here are some of the many approaches that are available and some explanation of how they could help your child.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavior Play Therapy
This type of therapy has proven to be very effective in helping children overcome various forms of behavioral disruption. From anxiety to substance misuse, this approach supports children in developing new patterns of thought, resulting in new patterns of behavior. The main idea of CBT is that beliefs around thoughts create behaviors, which result in consequences.
CBT can benefit kids in a variety of ways. Helping kids understand how thoughts can influence emotions and behavior can serve kids who aren’t experiencing disruptive symptoms too. Teaching kids how to be “in tune” with their thoughts can help with self-regulation and a variety of other areas of developmental growth.
Cognitive-Behavioral Play Therapy is typically utilized by a therapist working with a younger patient. Many therapists and school-based counselors have adapted CBT to fit into various developmental groupings to provide effective interventions. Through play and interaction, children can learn and develop more effective coping skills and behavior when facing adversity.
Here are some other areas of child behavior that can and have been treated with CBT and CBPT:
- eating disorders
- oppositional defiant disorder
- sexual abuse
- separation anxiety
- processing divorce
- issues with self-esteem
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical Behavior Therapy is another type of cognitive-behavioral therapy. The term “dialectical” merges the therapeutic opposites of acceptance and change. Therapists use acceptance to reassure patients and support them in creating behavior change.
Through individual counseling, group therapy, crisis interventions, and collaborative care, DBT supports patients in a broad capacity. The approach is commonly used in high-risk patients presenting with multiple diagnoses.
DBT counselors help clients that are at risk for suicidal behavior and other challenging disorders that produce high-risk behaviors. The approach was initially developed to serve patients suffering from borderline personality disorder.
DBT therapists utilize coping skills training for their patients in addition to individual and group counseling for better handling distressing and extreme emotions. There are certification standards for DBT providers. They must regularly practice and utilize the strategies introduced during counseling to keep their skills sharp to provide the most beneficial care for their patients.
Applied Behavior Analysis
Applied Behavior Analysis therapy is the ‘new’ behavior modification. It has grown as an approach from one that attempted to change behavior to one that thoroughly assesses the environmental impact on one’s behavior. This approach has worked in many age groups but is particularly relevant for children in early interventions for autism spectrum disorder.
ABA teaches socially significant behaviors in real-life settings, which can be difficult for some children to understand. This intervention addresses effective strategies for communication, self-management skills, and cognition. In younger children, these learning concepts help children to develop and improve pre-academic skills too.
Family therapy offers people in intimate groups improvement in communication and positive interactions. This approach emphasizes that how a family interacts is a significant factor in psychological health. It provides sessions that typically last 60 minutes and are usually short term.
Improvements in how a family interacts improve all members. In the case of children, family therapy is typically offered in addition to the child’s individual needs. The approach provides families with the opportunity to learn how the child needs to be supported in times of struggle. Learning how to better understand in a place of trust is beneficial and a family therapist fosters calm comprehension.
Group Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses one or more providers working with several people at the same time. Group therapy is available at a variety of locations and helps people facing a variety of emotional difficulties. It can be intimidating at first but it can be very beneficial for many reasons.
People in group therapy receive built-in peer support and a sounding board within its circle of trust. In a setting where increased trust and accountability provide an incubator for growth, people can find new hope. This type of therapy differs from self-help and other support groups.
With a specially trained psychologist at the helm, a group can be taught strategies and skills to help move the group forward. In a group setting, additional perspectives and diversity of solutions are beneficial. This approach is sometimes looked at as an add-on to individual psychotherapy.
Interpersonal Psychotherapy is an approach utilized in many mood disorders. It aims to help clients improve their interpersonal relationships to reduce distress. By focusing specifically on a client’s maladaptive thoughts and their importance during interpersonal interactions, a therapist can help improve their social environment, in turn decreasing symptoms of depression or other behavioral disruptions.
This therapy is structured and time-limited. Therapists send their clients home with activities that aid them in making real-time adjustments in their interpersonal interactions. Research (Weisman, 1994) in the area of Interpersonal Psychotherapy has shown efficacy in comparison to administered antidepressants.
Though not therapy, coaching can provide an additional resource to help your child. The benefits of coaching can add to a parent’s arsenal for battling behavioral distress. Coaches have special skills to support kids in developing resilience and other personal skills that will serve them throughout their life.
Here is another excellent resource for a deeper understanding of child therapy.
When to Seek Advice and Get Counseling?
Knowing when it’s time to seek help is one of the most important lessons to learn when you are parenting a child who is having behavioral and emotional difficulties.
Approaching the goal of finding a therapist with the understanding that they are there to help your child, not to judge your parenting, is a great place to start your search. Behavior is not easy to judge when a child is ever-changing and growing. Give yourself grace in the process.
One of the main signals that a child may need additional help is when behavior becomes disruptive to daily life. When a child shows signs of distress across all life areas, it may be time to ask for professional help. Trusting your gut as a parent is incredibly important.
Here is a rough guideline for symptoms that might warrant seeking professional help for your child:
- pervasive sadness or hopelessness
- excessive worry or fearfulness in average situations
- panic attacks
- constant anger or overreactions
- loss of interest in previously joyful activities
- hearing voices that don’t exist
- expression of suicidal thoughts
- difficulty concentrating
- obsessively washing hands or excessive need for organization
- preoccupation with physical illness
- preoccupation with appearance
- disruption in sleep patterns or experience of regular nightmares
- changes in eating habits
General Advice for Parents Taking Their Child to Therapy
Lose the stigma from the start. Fully understanding that your child is not broken is a mindset shift that has to happen before beginning to search for help. Our negativity bias can lead us to try to fix weakness. With children, helping them become aware of their strengths and how to use them is a far more efficient and productive life long approach (Waters, 2017).
As parents face the uncharted waters of finding the right therapist to help their child, a broader understanding has to be met. Parents may have to change too, which may spark some discomfort. Allowing vulnerability to lead is a source of strength that lets a parent be fully present for the child and his or her road to a life with ease.
Parents will need to build their own toolbox of coping skills too. When a parent is better informed and prepared for the changes that are required through interventions in therapy, a more positive outcome can be reached. A great quote may resonate with parents beginning a mental health improvement journey with their kids. “When you become a parent, you stop being the picture, and become the frame.”
Parents should always insist on an open dialogue with their child’s therapist, while also understanding that sometimes a child may not want to share intimate thoughts in front of a parent. A therapist who has a team approach to helping a child is strongly encouraged. No therapist wields a magic wand to create behavior change automatically.
Therapy is hard work. Change is challenging, and a parent fully engaged in supporting their child through that change is vital.
Sometimes things come up in therapy that can be distressing for parents — utilizing an open-minded listening stance when first starting out in therapy is necessary. There will be challenging moments. Self-regulating is an essential skill for supporting children in their healing.
How to Explain Therapy to Kids
Coming from a supportive space is where to start when explaining therapy for kids. Talking with kids about therapy at a time when things are calm will allow for kids to better understand.
With younger kids, using vocabulary that is easy for them to comprehend is very important. Kids are sometimes frightened by the uncertainty of meeting with a therapist. Reassuring children that they are whole and capable is important to include in the conversation.
Explaining that therapy is a safe place to meet a new friend and talk about their life is a great place to start. Helping children better understand the types of things they’ll be doing in therapeutic sessions can ease any concerns they might have. Letting your child know that they’re not alone in the process is important.
With younger kids, talking about the toys and games that they’ll get to play with can paint a fun picture of what they’ll learn in therapy. Letting your kid know that you’ll be learning too will connect you in the way you can show up for each other. Therapy is a healing process, so looking forward to the healing can bring a wonderfully positive perspective for the process.
Older kids can be more resistant to entering the realm of therapy. For teens, especially, vulnerability is viewed as risky from their vantage point. Teenager’s brains are going through massive neurological restructuring.
The limbic system is growing at a more rapid pace than the frontal lobe as teenagers. This can result in increased emotional behavior. Impulsive behavior can be troubling for parents because consequences come along with missteps.
As their cognitive abilities are more advanced than younger kids, explaining therapy from a compassionate and collaborate stance will help your teen feel held and heard when facing the new realm of meeting with a therapist.
Speaking in a positive and hopeful way when discussing therapy is extremely important. Offering the safety of the counselor’s responsibility for ethical conduct can help a kid realize that they won’t be judged, and their secrets will be kept can be comforting.
Many kids having behavioral disruptions can be afraid of hope. Helping them understand that the expectation of therapy is for them to figure out how they want to show up in the world. Allowing them to explore what they are facing in a safe and supported environment from a neutral party might ease the fear of being vulnerable.
Giving your child permission to be human is a way to normalize what is happening inside of them. We all face emotional difficulties. We all face areas of growth. Helping kids see that including therapy as a tool in parenting is an act of love.
How Do I Find a Therapist for Kids Near Me?
Finding the right fit for a therapist that works with children is an important process. The first step is fully understanding the needs of your child. Many times the start of therapy can be in a crisis, which can feel overwhelming for parents. Try not to panic. Awareness that a problem exists is helpful and means that help is on the way.
Many families start the process of finding a therapist by meeting with their child’s school counselor. There are many resources in place to serve families in a variety of ways. Parents can view school counselors as a part of a larger team of people available to serve their children in the healing and growth process.
Attending events like parent workshops and lectures is a great way to find a local provider. Events like these can introduce parents to new skills and a new network of support. Many people in this network of parents could be great resources for answering questions and offering experiences with providers.
A great resource for finding a provider by zip code is Network therapy.com. Listed here are mental health providers, national hotlines, along with a resource center. A parent can use their zip code to locate local providers, the type of services they provide, and even the types of insurance that are accepted.
Another great online resource for finding a child or adolescent counselor is Psychology Today. It offers a list of providers, by state, and by popular cities. It offers profiles of local providers and their expertise, along with contact information.
Before making a decision about hiring a provider, it is suggested to have at least three separate consultations. Be prepared before the consultations with questions about the provider’s approach to therapy and what to expect as a parent. It’s a good idea to pay attention to the chemistry that is present or not present between parent and provider.
A Take-Home Message
It is crucial for parents to know that they are not alone. All parents want their kids to be happy and healthy. Mental health difficulties can be scary and confusing, and it helps to know that fear and uncertainty drift away when the realization of hope and optimism becomes visible.
Being a parent of a child facing a struggle means that there is a new bandwidth to supporting your child. Educating yourself with coping strategies and increased emotional resilience will serve your family in more ways than one. Let love win by navigating this new world of mental health care with an open mind and open heart. Find the support you need in addition to finding the best way to support your child.
Thanks for reading!
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Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
This therapy type is one of the most common types of therapy for children, especially for those with anxiety or depression. During therapy, kids learn how to recognize and understand their thought patterns and how they contribute to their situation.
A child counsellor is a professional who helps their child patients identify and understand problems in their own lives. They help clients evaluate what's happening in their lives and discover alternative ways to handle or respond to situations.What happens when a child first goes to play therapy? ›
A Play Therapist will begin by carefully listening to your concerns about your child and family. They will review their history and find out about the stresses the family have been through so that they can help your child make sense of it.What are 5 commonly used therapy methods? ›
- Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies. ...
- Behavior therapy. ...
- Cognitive therapy. ...
- Humanistic therapy. ...
- Integrative or holistic therapy.
- Bedwetting (when already night trained)
- Frequent temper tantrums.
- Separation anxiety and clinginess.
- Excessive anxiety and fearfulness.
- Language regression (using “baby talk”)
Child psychologists are sometimes called developmental psychologists.What is behavioral therapy for kids? ›
During the therapy sessions, parents learn how to carefully observe their children's behaviors at home and are taught skills to reward their children's positive behaviors by using praise, positive attention, and rewards. They are also taught to use rule-setting, time-out, and ignoring to discourage bad behaviors.At what age is play therapy effective? ›
Play therapy interventions are most effective in children and adolescents ages 3 to 12 years old. However, even older adolescents may also benefit from various play therapy techniques.What age is best for play therapy? ›
Although people of all ages can benefit from play therapy, it's typically used with children between the ages of 3 and 12. Play therapy may be helpful in a variety of circumstances, such as: facing medical procedures, chronic illness, or palliative care. developmental delay or learning disabilities.What type of therapy is the most beneficial? ›
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can help those with mental disorders or emotional difficulties. It can lessen symptoms and help individuals function better in their everyday lives. This kind of therapy is often used in combination with medication or other therapies.
In summary, because of its clear research support, CBT dominates the international guidelines for psychosocial treatments, making it a first-line treatment for many disorders, as noted by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence's guidelines2 and American Psychological Association.Which therapy is considered the best? ›
Cognitive behavioral therapy is considered the gold standard in psychotherapy. Numerous clinical trials have found CBT to be effective for a spectrum of emotional health challenges, from anxiety and depression to addiction and schizophrenia.What are the three stages of therapy? ›
The first stage, exploration, involves helping the client examine his or her thoughts and feelings. The second stage, insight, helps clients understand the reasons for these thoughts and feelings. The third stage, action, involves the client making changes.Which type of therapy is most commonly used? ›
The most common type of therapy right now may be cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). As mentioned above, CBT explores the relationship between a personâ€™s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. It often focuses on identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with healthier ones.What are 5 symptoms that a child may have a mental health disorder? ›
- Persistent sadness that lasts two weeks or more.
- Withdrawing from or avoiding social interactions.
- Hurting oneself or talking about hurting oneself.
- Talking about death or suicide.
- Outbursts or extreme irritability.
- Out-of-control behavior that can be harmful.
Research shows that kids benefit the most from mental health therapy when their parents are involved. When parents and the family are involved, your child feels more supported, that the work is not just on them, and that there is a team of people that have their back.What are 5 potential signs of a mental health issue that a child or youth may exhibit? ›
- getting significantly lower marks in school.
- avoiding friends and family.
- having frequent outbursts of anger.
- changes to sleeping or eating habits.
- acting out or rebelling against authority.
- drinking a lot and/or using drugs.
- not doing the things he or she used to enjoy.
- worrying constantly.
A child therapist is a mental health professional who focuses on the treatment and rehabilitation of disturbed children, while a child psychologist is a professional that can diagnose and treat many different mental health problems and syndromes in children.What are 5 duties of a child psychologist? ›
Conduct psychological assessments and/or tests for diagnostic purposes. Develop an individualized treatment plan for each child. Educate family members on what they can do for their child or how to respond to certain behaviors. Recommend rehabilitation or intervention programs to overcome addiction issues.When should a child see a psychologist? ›
Kids and teens need therapy when they have problems they can't cope with alone. Or they need help when problems affect how well they do, feel, or act. If things don't get better on their own, kids may need therapy so things can improve.
- Your discipline strategies aren't working. ...
- Your child's behavior interferes with school. ...
- Your child's behavior impacts their social life. ...
- Your child's behavior is not developmentally appropriate.
Behavior therapy is an effective treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that can improve a child's behavior, self-control, and self-esteem. It is most effective in young children when it is delivered by parents.Do kids with ADHD need counseling? ›
Some kids need therapy to help ease difficult emotions caused by ADHD. For example, kids might lose confidence or feel like they're disappointing others. Some kids become depressed, anxious, angry, or frustrated. When kids learn skills to manage ADHD, they do better.What are the disadvantages of play therapy? ›
Play therapy is the technique of choice for many child psychologists, but there are some disadvantages to it. For example, an improvement is often not observed until many sessions are undertaken, typically between 35 and 40. In addition, not all research has found this type of therapy to be effective.Does play therapy help ADHD? ›
Together with Parenting Counseling, Play Therapy is especially effective at treating ADHD.What are the two types of play therapy? ›
Play therapy comes in two basic forms: non-directive (or child-centered) and directive.Should my 4 year old see a therapist? ›
Your child might benefit from seeing a therapist if: They need emotional support and someone to talk to about their feelings. They're struggling with anxiety, depression, anger, or big life changes. You'd like help figuring out how to get along better with your child, and improve tough behavior.What is the success rate of play therapy? ›
There is plenty of scientific evidence that play therapy can help children ages four to 12. In fact, because it is a well-established fact that children learn through play and games, according to Play Therapy International, over 70% of children who are referred to play therapy experience positive changes in behavior.How do I fix my child's behavior problems? ›
- Do what feels right. What you do has to be right for your child, yourself and the family. ...
- Do not give up. Once you've decided to do something, continue to do it. ...
- Be consistent. ...
- Try not to overreact. ...
- Talk to your child. ...
- Be positive about the good things. ...
- Offer rewards. ...
- Avoid smacking.
CCPT utilizes play, the natural language of children, and therapeutic relationship to provide a safe, consistent therapeutic environment in which a child can experience full acceptance, empathy, and understanding from the counselor and process inner experiences and feelings through play and symbols.
- Science breaks down the types of play. Dr. ...
- Attunement Play. Attunement play is the early building blocks for all forms of play. ...
- Body Play & Movement. ...
- Object Play. ...
- Social Play. ...
- Imaginative & Pretend Play. ...
- Storytelling-Narrative Play. ...
- Creative Play.
Play Therapy: What Is It, How It Works, and Techniques
History and Development of Play Therapy
Play Therapy Makes a Difference
Developmental Therapists measure a child's global development and detect precise areas of needs and expanse the strengths. They will design play tasks to support toddlers to overcome their challenges and improve the quality of their interactions in order to help them gain confidence in their own abilities.What is the most effective therapy method? ›
In summary, because of its clear research support, CBT dominates the international guidelines for psychosocial treatments, making it a first-line treatment for many disorders, as noted by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence's guidelines2 and American Psychological Association.What is the most effective therapy for childhood trauma? ›
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)
CPT is often a first choice when treating PTSD, especially when addressing the long-term effects of childhood traumas in adults. For PTSD, the American Psychiatric Association recommends treatment over 12 sessions.
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can help those with mental disorders or emotional difficulties. It can lessen symptoms and help individuals function better in their everyday lives. This kind of therapy is often used in combination with medication or other therapies.What are the 5 types of child development programs? ›
- cognitive development,
- social and emotional development,
- speech and language development,
- fine motor skill development, and.
- gross motor skill development.
Peterson (2010) presents four perspectives: psychoanalytic, cognitive/ developmental, classical learning and social-learning.What type of behavioral therapy is most likely to be used in the treatment of child with an anxiety disorder? ›
A therapeutic approach that teaches individuals how to control their thoughts so they can better manage their unwanted feelings and prevent troublesome behaviors. (CBT) can be very effective for kids who are anxious. In fact, for children with mild to moderate anxiety, the recommended treatment is CBT.How do I choose the right therapist? ›
How do I choose the right therapist/therapy for me? The most important question to ask yourself is what you want to get out of therapy. That answer may be as simple as, “I want to feel better,” but being able to share that with a potential therapist will help both of you determine if it's a good fit.
Since cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the strongest evidence-based therapies out there, it is important to include a book that discusses CBT specifically. This book discusses the literature surrounding CBT and also how to incorporate these findings into a clinical practice.How do you parent a traumatized child? ›
Parents need to set reasonable and consistent limits and expectations and use praise for desirable behaviors. Don't take behavior personally. Allow the child to feel his or her feelings without judgment. Help him or her find words and other acceptable ways of expressing feelings, and offer praise when these are used.What mental disorders are caused by childhood trauma? ›
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). ...
- Acute stress disorder (ASD). ...
- Adjustment disorders. ...
- Reactive attachment disorder (RAD). ...
- Disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED). ...
- Unclassified and unspecified trauma disorders.
Immediately after trauma:
- Attend first to basic needs: safety, shelter, reuniting family.
- Assess initial responses and arrange to follow up over time.
Depth therapy requires individuals to engage in abstract thinking. The techniques used call for those in therapy to consider multiple meanings of concepts, explore patterns in their behavior, and consider non-literal meanings.Is it OK to see two therapists at once? ›
It's actually quite common for folks to have one therapist for individual counselling and a separate therapist for couples or family counselling. This is advantageous for a number of reasons: Conflicts of interests are circumvented.What is the most intense form of therapy? ›
Psychoanalysis is a more intense type of psychodynamic therapy. According to the American Psychiatric Association, therapy sessions generally take place three or more times a week.