What To Look For In A Child Therapist

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The Right Counselor Can Foster Resilience And Growth  

As many as one in six children have a diagnosable Mental Health Disorder (nami.org), and finding the right counselor or child therapist to guide these children through the growing pains of childhood and adolescence can dramatically improve their chances of success in life. It’s often comforting for parents who are deciding whether to invest time and money into a counselor to be reminded that mental illness is not a “choice” or a “moral failing.” In fact, mental illnesses such as anxiety, mood disorders, and ADHD occur at similar rates around the world, in every culture and in all socio-economic groups.  

Therapy is about EMPOWERMENT not INADEQUACY 

It’s important to remember that everyone has moments of anger or sadness from time to time.  Moments of extreme emotion aren’t in and of themselves evidence of a need for professional support.  But if these issues continue for longer than two weeks, seeking the help of a counselor may be warranted. If you are concerned that your child is experiencing a mental health problem, a behavioral issue, or a social struggle that is too big for them to handle on their own, the best time to address your concern is now. The analogy of a young tree jettisoning to the side then being corrected skywards again by a sturdy stake may be an appropriate comparison with counseling. Research shows that early intervention, with effective therapy, not only increases recovery rates for the child but builds resiliency and provides children with the skillset needed to handle future stressors as well.  

Choosing A Child Therapist 

Vetting Your Options 

Finding a therapist may not be as easy as finding a good dentist or tutor. Because of the confidential nature of therapeutic relationships, many people are hesitant to share openly their positive (or negative) experiences in therapy. Luckily, there are a number of other ways for a savvy parent to begin the search for a child therapist. 

A good place to start is through trusted friends, a doctor, or your child’s school. Typically, professionals who work with children in healthcare and education keep referral lists of specialists in the mental health arena. Another useful resource is the website PsychologyToday, where you can search by city, insurance company coverage, and specialty. If you are comfortable, crowdsourcing on social media by asking for therapy recommendations or searching previous posts (especially in a parenting group) can also prove effective.  

Of course, many parents are limited to what their insurance covers. Unfortunately, in my experience, I’ve found that lists of approved therapists provided by insurance companies are not always updated. Sorting through these lists and contacting the providers for coverage and availability options may take considerable time. It is not uncommon for therapists to be booked one to four weeks out. Try not to allow the vetting process to discourage you from finding a suitable therapist that fits your needs. 

Once you’ve received a number of possible recommendations, it’s helpful to review the therapist’s websites and bios. Many therapists will have additional information listed such as their background, education, specialties, accepted insurances, and session rates.  

Experience Matters 

Choose a therapist with experience and expertise in the areas that your child is struggling. For instance, if your child is exhibiting intense ruminations or repetitive behaviors, a mental health expert who works with kids and specializes in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders would be helpful. Or if your teen is overly anxious, perfectionistic, and hard on themselves, meeting with an expert in high functioning anxiety is important. If you have a child who is struggling with impulse control, organizing/planning, and social inhibition, finding an ADHD specialist will likely prove beneficial. Although there will be some crossover, each of these specialists will have additional training and tools in their proverbial toolboxes specifically designed to help your child handle their struggles.  

Involve Your Child In The Process 

After you’ve researched and vetted a couple of referrals for child therapists, show the options to your child, and let them participate in the decision of who would be a good fit for them. This gives your child a semblance of control.  You are essentially saying, “You need to talk to someone, but I’ll let you decide who.” It also bodes better for treatment outcomes.  When a child or adult for that matter, is open and engaged in treatment, they will be more invested and benefit more from the experience. 

One note: your child may need to meet with a few therapists before you find the winning combination. Hold on to the list of additional options just in case the relationship doesn’t click or falls flat. Sometimes this happens (don’t worry, we as therapists understand and want the best for you and your family)! One of the most important factors in recovery rates is feeling a strong connection to your counselor or therapist. 

Support Your Child By Building Your Reserves 

If your child is struggling with maintaining emotional balance, there is a good chance that you are too. Unfortunately, these kinds of tensions can feed off of each other.  You may be unintentionally making things worse.  Consider getting support to improve your communication skills, develop strategies for de-escalation, cope with teen angst and rebellion, or better connect with your family.  You will likely find that in changing your behavior and attitude, you will impact the rest of the family as well. 

Life will throw all kinds of challenges at our kids, some of which require outside support. Therapy can help empower our children to develop the tools to build resilience, utilize coping strategies and shift their mindset to lean into opportunities for growth.

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