Bringing a child to therapy is a big decision for most parents. You might worry that seeking therapy for your child means that you are not an adequate parent and can’t handle problems on your own. Maybe you worry what others think of you and your child, or feel bad that there is something wrong. 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 go to a medical doctor when there's something physically wrong. We should equally be going to a mental health professional when there is a behavioral or emotional issue as well.
Social and emotional struggles occur for many different reasons and children’s challenges can come in all shapes and sizes. The fact that you are seeking support for your child should be seen as a strength, not a weakness.
During the first session, I invite the parent(s) to come to the office. This is typically 45 minutes to an hour long. Generally, for children 12 and under, I meet with only the parent(s) during the initial session. Younger kids don't always love being talked about by adults in front of them! As a parent of a young child, you know their behavior best and can talk freely about what you and your child are struggling with at home in regard to their behavior or emotional reactions.
We will take some time to talk about background history such as any educational concerns, any past major life events, family dynamics, what has and has not worked when addressing the problem, etc. We will also talk about the main reason you're bringing your child in for therapy and what you hope to get out of our time together.
Children can vary in their response to meeting a therapist. This is probably their first time going to therapy and they have no idea what to expect. Sometimes they hear the word "doctor" and immediately think shots and needles. 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. Most sessions are about 50 minutes, though some young children are only able to focus their attention for about 30 minutes.
I use a number of different approaches in child therapy, depending on your child’s age, needs, temperament, and life situation. With children, we are often sitting on the floor/bean bag. I like to use games, drawing, worksheets, and play that provide your child with opportunities to express feelings as well as the situations and relationships (real or symbolic) they connect to their feelings. 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.
Feelings, emotions, and coping skills are not typically part of a school's general curriculum. In therapy sessions, I help children find words to express their feelings and understand how their bodies give them warning signs about feelings and emotions. I also help them find healthy and helpful ways to cope through big feelings or use more positive, kind words when feeling upset with themselves or others. I will often problem-solve with a child about how to handle a problem or feeling they are having.
You and I working together is also important. Children vary on their self-reflection abilities, thus parent input is often times needed in order to address the right areas in sessions. I may start each session checking in with you on how things have been since our last meeting. Alternatively, we may check in at the end of sessions. Children (mostly ages 6-10) are often willing to share the activities we did together and skills learned.
It is important to know that your child’s sessions with me are confidential. However, many skills and strategies learned in therapy sessions are most effective if parents help the child continue these strategies outside of the office. In most cases, I do not share specifically what your child tells me, but will share the general themes related to treatment, possible goals to work on, and strategies to continue. 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.
I feel privileged to work with you and your child. I want 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 strategies we agree to try.