Last week, guest blogger Dr. Amy Sheinberg started a valuable discussion about children in therapy and provided important information for parents unfamiliar with the topic (see her post, Is Therapy Right for Your Child?). This week Dr. Sheinberg answers your questions about types of therapy and how to find a therapist for your child. Read on for more…
What types of therapy are there for children?
When we think about therapy, a picture of someone lying on a couch with a pipe-smoking therapist nearby typically pops into our head. While children do work one-on-one with a therapist in individual therapy, that old stereotype doesn’t exist. Depending on a child’s age, therapy may include play therapy and talk therapy. Kids work on issues on which they may need guidance, such as depression, social problems, or worries. Therapy may include developing stress management techniques, learning anger management skills, social skills training, and practicing coping skills.
A child may also participate in group therapy, where children meet in groups of 6 to 12 with a licensed group leader who helps guide the group to work on problem solving, skill-set development, social skills, and anger management. Interacting with peers can be particularly motivating and useful in producing change.
Family therapy can be particularly useful when family members aren’t getting along, disagree or argue often, or when a child is having behavior problems. Family therapy involves sessions with some, or all, family members and helps to improve communication skills. Treatment will often focus on problem-solving and helping to re-establish the parents’ role as authority figures.
What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?
A psychologist helps people through counseling and therapy, has an advanced degree (Ph.D.) and is called “Dr.,” but is not a medical doctor. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (M.D.) who can perform therapy and also prescribe medication.
How do you find a good therapist for your child?
Start with your pediatrician. Ask who they refer to and who they recommend for your child. Teachers and school administrators usually have several psychologists that they work with frequently and can be good referral sources as well.
Once you make that initial phone call and schedule an appointment, here are some questions you may want to ask during the first session:
Is the therapist licensed to practice in your state? • What are their credentials and experience? • How long has he/she worked with children, adolescents, and families? • What types of therapy does the therapist specialize in? • Will the therapist meet with you for feedback and intervention, in addition to your child? (This may vary depending on the therapist and the age of the child. Be sure to ask about how confidentiality works.) • Will the therapist talk to and include feedback from the school guidance counselor? • If using insurance, is the therapist on your panel, how many sessions are allowed and what is your copay? • If you elect to not use insurance or insurance does not cover mental health expenses, what will be the cost per session? • What is their cancellation policy?
One very important thing to focus on during that first session is how you feel about the therapist. Most parents are initially a bit nervous at the first visit. Does the therapist try to put you at ease? Do you feel heard and understood? Considering questions such as these will help you decide if you and the therapist are a good fit. If you don’t feel comfortable and think your child won’t, then try someone else.
How do you prepare your child for the first visit?
It is essential to be honest about the session and why your child or family will be going. You may be concerned that your child will be upset upon being told of an upcoming visit with a therapist (and they may), but it is important they are prepared. For young kids, explain that the doctor you will see doesn’t give exams, shots or medicines (assuming you aren’t going to a psychiatrist), and that this is a talking doctor who will help them with problem solving and feeling better. Older children (this includes teenagers) are often reassured to learn that the sessions are confidential. The exceptions to confidentiality are if the child is a danger to him/herself and is in imminent danger, if the child is a danger to someone else, or if the therapist’s records get subpoenaed in a court case.
What else can you do as a parent to help if your child is having difficulties?
Be there to listen and to care. Offer support without judgment. Be patient, it isn’t easy to verbalize fears and emotions. Set aside time to discuss your child’s worries and concerns. Turn off all technology so you can do so without interruption and to let your child know he/she is your priority.
By recognizing problems and seeking help early on, you can help your child and your family move through tough times toward more happy and healthy times.
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