You feel over your head. You’ve hemmed and hawed, but last night’s behavior solidified it – you need to find a child therapist. Your child needs help. Your family needs help. But, where do you start?
You thought the decision to pursue therapy was hard, but finding a child therapist seems even harder! Where do you find one? What makes a good child therapist?
Relax, I’ve got you covered. As a child therapist, I will shed some light on what to look for and what to ask. Let’s get started:
WHERE TO FIND A CHILD THERAPIST
Finding a child therapist doesn’t have to be difficult. Many people feel more comfortable with a referral from someone they know and trust. Talk to friends and family – you’d be surprised at how many people have seen a child therapist.
Also, a good child therapist will have connections with people in your community. Ask your pediatrician’s office if they have a referral for a child therapist. Many offices will have a referral list. The school is another great resource. If your child’s school has a counselor or social worker – ask them who they typically recommend.
Another easy place to start is on the Internet. Most child therapists have a website. If you do a search for a child therapist in your city – chances are some websites are going to pop up. This will give you a chance to weed out your options.
Therapists commonly join therapy directories. You can find psychcentral’s therapy directory here. Other popular directories include PsychologyToday.com, GoodTherapy.org and Find-a-Therapist.com.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PSYCHIATRIST, PSYCHOLOGIST AND A THERAPIST
Okay, you have gathered a pretty hefty list of names and numbers – but what are all those letters after everyone’s names? LMFT, LCSW, LPC, MD, PhD, Psy.D. – I am pretty convinced that mental health professionals have more letters than any other profession. For help making heads and tails of this alphabet soup click here to read this helpful article.
MAKING AN APPOINTMENT
I always meet with parents alone the first session, but not all child therapists do this. I think it is helpful for parents to get an opportunity to connect with the therapist without their child present. This gives you and the child therapist the freedom to ask questions, without worrying about how this would affect your child.
If the child therapist usually meets with the child the initial session, ask if it would be okay if you have a parent-only session first. A good child therapist will be flexible.
AT THE PARENT-ONLY APPOINTMENT
At the parent-only session ask yourself these questions:
Did we connect?
Is the child therapist warm and engaging? If you are not connecting with the child therapist, chances are your child won’t either. Child therapists are human and just like people in the real world – you will connect with some and not with others.
How did I feel after the session?
Did you leave feeling uplifted and hopeful or overwhelmed and doubtful? How the child therapist made you feel is an indication of how they will make your child feel. When I hear parents tell me, “I feel so much better just talking about it” or “I feel better about everything already” – I know it was a successful parent session.
Do they work with kids?
Okay – you might think that is a dumb question. Of course they work with kids – they are a child therapist. But, some therapist work with everyone. They may have put on their website or profile that they work with kids – but that doesn’t mean they specialize in children.
I am a big believer that you can’t be an expert in everything. I don’t work with couples – because I know next to nothing about couples counseling. Having said that, not everyone understands how to work with children. You may know how to treat anxiety – but treating anxiety in kids is a whole different ball game.
Some therapists have lots of experience working with teens, but may be lost with a toddler. Ask the therapist if they are comfortable working with your child’s age range and primary issue.
Having to switch to a new therapist mid-stream can cause major setbacks. Avoid the hassle and ask these questions before you start.
What did the room look like?
No, I am not being an office décor snob. What the office looks like is a key component to child therapy. You might be able to overlook a small, unwelcoming space – but kids can’t. Kids don’t just sit on a couch and talk in child therapy. If that is the expectation – keep looking. Kids talk the most when they are engaged, distracted and having fun. I get more from a child who is doing an art project or playing mini-basketball, than I ever would get from a child just sitting on my couch.
So you are all set. You found the perfect child therapist and you are ready to start therapy. Here are some tips as you progress through therapy:
Try to avoid giving updates in front of your child
Try to be aware of what you say in front of your child. You want therapy to be a positive experience. If you have updates for the therapist – leave a voice message or use email if you feel comfortable.
Meet with the therapist alone every few sessions
I always meet with parents alone every three sessions. I think it is nice to be able to have a whole session to discuss my clinical impressions, what goals I am working on and what parental approaches might work. If your child therapist doesn’t routinely meet with you alone – ask them if they can.
Schedule a few sessions ahead
A good child therapist is a busy child therapist. Therapy is more fruitful when you have regular and consistent sessions. If your child therapist doesn’t offer regular time slots – be sure to schedule two or three sessions at a time.
Do not grill your child after each session
The worst thing a parent can do is grill their child after each session. This behavior has the risk of shutting your child down. Ask your child, “How did it go?” and leave it at that. If they want to talk about it – they will.
When you meet alone with the child therapist, you should hopefully get a clear picture of how therapy is going and what types of goals they are working on. If you don’t – ask.
A child therapist can be a wealth of support. They can help you and your child cope with basic issues like communication to more serious issues with clinical diagnoses. Once you find a good child therapist they can be an ongoing resource whenever you need some extra help.
Do you have any tips or experiences of your own to share? Leave a comment below.
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