Seeking therapy for your child can be an overwhelming process. With so many types of therapists and treatment methods, how do you know which one is the right fit? This guide provides steps to take when researching child therapists. Following these tips can help you find a counselor well-suited to help your child thrive.
Signs It May Be Time for Therapy
Therapy can benefit children struggling with:
- Anxiety or depression - A therapist can help kids manage feelings of persistent worry or sadness.
- Trauma or grief - Counseling provides support for traumatic life events such as the loss of a loved one.
- Behavioral issues - Therapy assists with disruptive behaviors at home or school.
- Learning differences - Psychologists can assess for learning disabilities and provide support.
- Social challenges - Counseling builds skills for making friends and interacting with peers.
- Life transitions - Major changes like divorce or moves can be navigated with a therapist's guidance.
Some signs your child may need extra support include:
- Withdrawing from friends and family - Kids may isolate themselves when depressed or anxious.
- Declining school performance - Worsening grades can indicate an emotional or learning issue.
- Increased worry or sadness - Excessive fear, crying or irritation may signify a problem.
- Outbursts or defiance - Lashing out often stems from an underlying issue requiring help.
- Difficulty coping with emotions - Without intervention, kids may develop unhealthy coping mechanisms.
- Trouble sleeping or eating - Changes in sleep or appetite can accompany emotional distress.
If your child is showing any of these symptoms, consulting with a therapist can help. The earlier you intervene, the more effective therapy will be at developing healthy coping skills and recovering from emotional wounds.
Types of Child Therapists
There are several types credentials that qualify someone to provide therapy for kids. Knowing the difference between each could help you find the right fit for your child's needs:
Psychologists have a PhD or PsyD in psychology. They're qualified to diagnose mental health conditions and provide therapy. Some specialize in working with children and have training in areas like childhood trauma or learning disabilities.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors, capable of prescribing medication for mental illness, in addition to providing therapy. Look for child psychiatrists with therapy experience, rather than those who mainly focus on medication management.
Clinical Social Workers
Social workers have a master's degree in social work (MSW) and clinical training. They take a holistic approach and have expertise in child development. Social workers commonly use play therapy or art therapy techniques.
Counselors and Therapists
Counselors have a master's degree in counseling, marriage and family therapy, or psychology. They are trained in various therapeutic approaches for children and teens.
Questions to Ask Potential Therapists
Vet potential therapists thoroughly before selecting one. Here are key questions to ask:
- Which treatment approaches do you use? Play therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are common evidence-based practices for children, but a psychoanalytic approach can also help uncover deeper issues.
- Do you have experience addressing my child's specific needs, such as anxiety, ADHD, or learning disabilities? Seek someone well-versed in your child's concerns.
- Do you involve parents in the therapy process? Parental participation is crucial, especially for younger kids.
- What are your policies on confidentiality for children? Get clear guidelines upfront.
- How frequently would you meet with my child and for how long? Weekly 45-60 minute sessions are typical.
If you’re in Seattle or Houston, Relational Psych has a team of therapists ready to help with your child’s needs. If you’re in other cities, use Psychology Today's directory to search for therapists' credentials and specialties.
Interviewing the Therapist
Once you've narrowed your options, set up introductory consultations. Ideally look for clinicians that offer free consultation calls. Meeting the therapist helps you both determine if it's a good personality match. Consider bringing your child to get their first impression too.
Address any remaining questions, like:
- How will we evaluate progress and adjust treatment over time?
- Do you offer family sessions or guidance for supporting my child?
- What is the cost of your services? What payment options do you accept?
- What is your cancellation policy?
Trust your gut and select a therapist your child feels comfortable opening up to.
Look for These Positive Signs Once Therapy Begins
How do you know if you've found the "right" therapist for your child? Look for these encouraging indicators after a few sessions:
- Your child seems comfortable with the therapist and looks forward to sessions.
- Your child participates actively in activities like play therapy or arts/crafts.
- The therapist maintains appropriate boundaries based on your child's needs.
- Your child is gaining coping skills and emotional awareness.
- You have clear communication with the therapist and understand treatment goals.
Signs It May Be Time to Switch Therapists
Give the therapist a fair chance, like 12-16 sessions, to establish rapport and see progress. If you have lingering doubts, consider making a change. Red flags include:
- Your child dreads or refuses to see the therapist.
- The therapist frequently cancels or rescheduled appointments.
- You disagree with the therapist's approach or recommendations.
- Your child's symptoms or behaviors worsen over time.
- You see no improvement after following their advice consistently.
Voice your concerns honestly. A quality therapist will refer you to someone better suited, if needed. What matters most is your child feeling understood and developing healthy coping strategies. Keep searching until you find the right match.
With the many qualified child therapists out there, you can find one whose expertise aligns with your child's needs. Stay engaged in the process, and keep your child's best interest at heart. With your support and the right counselor, therapy can put your child on the path to emotional well-being.
Common Questions About Child Therapy
How do I bring up therapy to my child?
Explain you’ve noticed they seem sad or worried lately and want to get them extra help. Reassure them that therapy is for many kids their age. Keep the focus on wanting them to feel better.
What if my child refuses to go to therapy?
It’s normal to be hesitant. Try having them meet the therapist first. Offer an incentive like getting ice cream afterwards. Give them time to warm up to the idea and emphasize how counseling helps people.
Should I participate in the sessions?
For younger children, parents are often involved. As kids get older, the therapist will meet with them one-on-one while updating parents regularly. Share any relevant information to support the counseling.
How long will therapy last?
Length varies based on each child’s needs. Many attend sessions for a few months to a year. As things improve, meeting frequency can be reduced. Check-ins may continue through challenging transitions.
How will therapy help my child?
The therapist serves as an objective sounding board for kids to communicate freely and learn healthy coping techniques. Over time, therapy can boost their mood, self-esteem, relationships, and school performance.
- Child Mind Institute. (n.d.). How to find a children's mental health professional. Retrieved from https://childmind.org/article/how-to-find-a-childrens-mental-health-professional/
- Legg, T.J. (2021, August 23). How to find a therapist for your child. Verywell Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-find-a-therapist-for-your-child-5224445
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, January 25). Parent behavior training programs for the treatment of child and adolescent mental health disorders. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/parent-behavior-therapy.html
- Connolly, S. D., Bernstein, G. A., & the Work Group on Quality Issues. (2013). Practice parameter for the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with anxiety disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 52(2), 256-283. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2012.09.019
- Best Master's Programs. (2021, September 8). 5 great websites for child psychologists. Best Masters in Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.bestmastersinpsychology.com/lists/5-great-websites-for-child-psychologists/
- American Psychological Association. (2017). Finding a good therapist. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/finding-good-therapist