Supporting the whole child with therapy

May 21, 2018
Psychology | Texas Children's Hospital
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If you’re a parent, you’ve likely wondered at some point if therapy could help improve your child’s anxiety, mood or behavior. However, few parents know what exactly to expect before attending a therapy session. May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, so this blog post focuses on helping parents and caregivers develop a better understanding of what to expect when considering psychotherapy for their child. 

Why should my child see a therapist? Can’t I help them myself?

You can help your child in many ways, but a therapist has years of specialized training and experience to contribute and will also utilize the most helpful strategies available to your child. Most behavioral health difficulties, including anxiety and depression, are similar to medical conditions – best if addressed by a professional. Therapy provides a safe space for your child to learn and develop strategies in improving the difficulties they’re facing. Not only can therapists target an effective treatment plan, they can also provide a neutral, non-judgmental presence for your child to feel more comfortable sharing his/her thoughts and feelings.

How do I find a therapist for my child?

When it comes to locating a therapist, it can be confusing to know where to start. You may find doctoral-level providers, such as psychologists and psychiatrists; masters-level providers, such as social workers and licensed professional counselors; religious-oriented providers; or even providers who may or may not hold advanced degrees, such as life coaches and play therapists. In general, we recommend families look for therapists who practice evidence-based treatments. This means research has proven effectiveness of the strategies they use. This can often be figured out early by simply asking the therapist or visiting their web site, if they have one. Effective Child Therapy has information on evidence-based treatments for a wide range of child and adolescent behavioral health conditions.

What does therapy look like? 

Usually, your first session will involve a diagnostic assessment during which parents and children will meet together with the therapist who will ask a variety of questions to better understand your child’s past and current mental health, alongside functioning at home and school. While the session is wrapping up, the therapist will typically suggest the type of therapy best suited for your child’s needs. 

In the weeks following the first session, your child will likely begin visiting the therapist in appointments scheduled weekly or bi-monthly. Some child-focused therapies could involve the parent as the primary participant, with little time actually spent between the therapist and your child. For older children, therapies are sometimes partially focused on family and partially focused on the child. For teenagers, depending on the presenting concern, therapy is often focused on working primarily with youth. Therapy isn’t forever. In fact, most situations involve specific goals the therapist will work on with you and your child to achieve, and you’ll eventually decide together when goals have been met and therapy can be ended. 

How might my child feel about therapy?

Many children and teenagers enjoy therapy, as it provides an outlet to talk through what is going on in their lives. However, a common misconception is that therapy should always be fun and easy. In reality, therapy can be taxing and difficult! It’s similar to physical or occupational therapy – you get out of it what you put into it. If your child actively participates in therapy appointments and uses the skills learned in everyday life, the most benefits will be achieved. 

What else is important to know before sending my child to therapy?

First, therapy isn’t something you can “send” your child to. It’s important for parents to become actively involved in the process. Even for older adolescents and teenagers, parents should always feel informed on what’s going on in therapy, even if they’re not hearing the specific details. It’s critical for parents to help reinforce learned skills at home, and to be aware of any safety concerns that might arise. In addition, therapy isn’t something you can “do to” your child; we need the child’s active participation in the process for therapy to work. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Texas Children’s Psychology services, click here

Post by:

Katherine A. Gallagher, PhD

Dr. Gallagher is a pediatric psychologist specializing in working with youth and families affected by chronic medical conditions, particularly type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Some of her clinical interests include helping youth and families build skills for reducing distress and “burnout”...

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Nicole Schneider, PsyD

Dr. Schneider is a licensed psychologist and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Schneider specializes in the practice of pediatric psychology, primarily working with children, adolescents, and young adults with medical conditions. She is especially...

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