What To Expect When Your Child Comes to Therapy

Bringing a child to therapy is a big decision for most parents. Some parents worry that seeking therapy for their child means that they are not an adequate parent and can’t handle problems on their own. They might worry what others think of them and their child, or feel bad that there is something wrong with them. These thoughts can easily run through a parent’s head because our society forgets that a psychological problem is no different than a physical problem. We easily go to an MD for a physical problem; likewise, it is wise to seek the support of a psychotherapist if there is a problem socially or emotionally. Our bodies, thoughts, and feelings are all interconnected. Social and emotional struggles occur for many different reasons and children’s challenges can come in all shapes and sizes. The fact that parents are seeking support for their child should be seen as a strength, not a weakness. I will provide some answers to basic questions about child therapy as well as give an overview of how I work with children, adolescents, and their families. We will be talking more as our work together progresses, and I hope that you will always feel free to ask me any questions you might have.

The First Meeting:

Bringing a child to therapy is a big decision for most parents. Some parents worry that seeking therapy for their child means that they are not an adequate parent and can’t handle problems on their own. They might worry what others think of them and their child, or feel bad that there is something wrong with them. These thoughts can easily run through a parent’s head because our society forgets that a psychological problem is no different than a physical problem. We easily go to an MD for a physical problem; likewise, it is wise to seek the support of a psychotherapist if there is a problem socially or emotionally. Our bodies, thoughts, and feelings are all interconnected. Social and emotional struggles occur for many different reasons and children’s challenges can come in all shapes and sizes. The fact that parents are seeking support for their child should be seen as a strength, not a weakness. I will provide some answers to basic questions about child therapy as well as give an overview of how I work with children, adolescents, and their families. We will be talking more as our work together progresses, and I hope that you will always feel free to ask me any questions you might have.

Collecting Information:

I gather information first and foremost from you, because you know your child best. I invite both parents to participate as much as possible. At our initial meeting, I may ask you for permission to consult with your child’s teacher, pediatrician, or anyone else who may have important information to share about your child. I will obtain your written permission before consulting with any other professional about your child.

Introducing Your Child to Therapy:

After you meet with me, you might like to tell your child that they will be meeting with a therapist (whom you have met), and who likes to talk and play with children. You can tell them that therapists help children with their thoughts, feelings, and any worries or problems that they have. You can explain that there will be toys, books, games, a sand tray, and art supplies in the therapist’s office. Therapy should never be presented as some kind of punishment for something they have done wrong. Instead, I encourage you and your child to think of therapy as a chance to get support, talk, learn, have fun, feel better, and often do better in the world. In my first session with the child, I introduce them to the room and let them know what we will be doing together.

Your Child’s First Session:

Children vary in their response to meeting a new therapist. Some children separate easily from their parents in the waiting room, while others need the security of having a parent join them for part or all of the first session or two. We will do whatever helps your child feel most comfortable. You and I will discuss this in more detail after our initial meeting.

What Happens in Your Child’s Therapy Sessions:

I use a number of different approaches in child therapy, depending on your child’s age, needs, temperament, and life situation. I engage children in either unstructured or semi-structured play therapy.  Within the play, I integrate different therapeutic modalities, whether it be Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Mindfulness, Psychodynamic Therapy, or Expressive Arts Therapy, to name a few. In my office I have toys, dress-up, games, dolls, a sand tray, music, and art supplies that provide your child with opportunities to express feelings as well as the situations and relationships (real or symbolic) they connect to their feelings. Sometimes I offer children verbal interpretation of their play for discussion. Sometimes I simply reflect their feelings for them, allowing them to resolve their feelings as we interact symbolically in the play process. Young children don’t usually come in and talk directly about their issues as adults do. Play is the language of the young child and is how they process their feelings and experiences.  Oftentimes, I do help children find words to express their thoughts and feelings through play. In this way, I reflect and mirror the child’s experience and help them to understand it verbally and consciously. I will often problem-solve with a child about how to handle a problem or feeling they are having. Sometimes parents join their children in the room for discussion or play if I think it would be beneficial.

Your child is likely to do art projects, play games, play in the sand, roleplay, do movement, or make music in therapy. Parents often wonder if this is “real therapy” or if it is “really helping.” A lot of what helps and heals in therapy, with both adults and children, is the therapy relationship itself. Because children don’t naturally spend a lot of time talking about their problems, playing and having fun together helps to build a trusting and safe relationship between a therapist and child. Child therapists are trained professionals who are experienced in understanding the metaphorical and symbolic meaning of children’s play and about how to intervene therapeutically with children through play. Even though I may have had a very deep and healing session with a child around a certain issue they have been struggling with, they may still go home and, when asked what they did in therapy, say, “We played Candy Land.” This is typical. It is like asking them what they did in school all day, and they say, “Nothing.” I encourage parents to keep in contact with me if they have questions or concerns, rather than questioning their child. I want you, the parent, to be part of the process, and communicating with me is the best way to do that. When parents and therapist are aligned and in close communication, parents are able to relax and trust in their child’s therapeutic process.

How We Communicate About Your Child:

Therapists and parents working together is important. We will generally have periodic meetings to talk about your child’s progress, your observations and mine, and any continuing concerns we have. I may ask for such a meeting, but you may also request one at any time.

We will go over confidentiality when we meet for the initial session, but it is important to know that your child’s sessions with me are confidential. In most cases, I do not share specifically what your child does with me, but will share the general themes related to treatment. I encourage you to always tell me anything you think I should know. Giving me updates if anything has changed in your child’s life will help me be more in tune with your child and help me be able to address anything that might be affecting their progress. You can contact me via phone, voicemail, or e-mail. I try not to get into discussions with parents before or after therapy sessions because we don’t want children to feel that we are talking behind their backs. If it is appropriate, I will often talk to children in an age-appropriate way about what their parents and I discussed. My schedule does not permit me to talk with parents on the phone or through e-mail at length, beyond scheduling issues, unless we make a specific telephone appointment.

I feel privileged to work with you and your child, and to earn your trust. I would like you and your child to be as comfortable, informed, and involved as possible. You can also support your child in therapy by keeping appointments regularly, arriving for appointments on time, letting me know your questions and concerns, and following through on any therapy homework or parenting/family experiments we agree to try.

Thank you, and I look forward to working with you and your child!

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