Family Therapy: Children and Teens

What is psychotherapy with children and teens?

In psychotherapy with children and teens, play and talking are used to help children understand and express feelings and to change behaviors which are causing them problems with their families and friends, with their school performance, or with their feelings about themselves.

When does your child or teen need psychotherapy?

Children and teens may need psychotherapy when either they or others who live and work with them feel they could use some “help.”  Difficulties can include such problems as anxiety, depression, fears, behavioral difficulties and peer problems.  Referrals may come from schools, pediatricians, courts, parents, family or friends.

What forms of therapy are there for children and teens?

Play therapy is where the child and the therapist meet alone together.  Older children and teens may be seen for individual therapy.  Family therapy involves all the significant members of the family with the therapist.  Which type of therapy is best for your child depends on an evaluation of the nature of the difficulty and the age of the child.

Why is it a good idea to get help early for children and teens?

Providing help early to children who are having emotional difficulties is usually more effective and less expensive.  Childhood emotional difficulties can affect a child’s social relationships, school performance and overall self-image, sometimes resulting in life-long problems.  A child who gets help when it is needed will have fewer difficulties later.  In addition, they will feel more comfortable in seeking help later in life, if the need arises.

How frequently and for how long will your child or teen meet with the therapist?

Typically the counselor will see your child or teen for 45-50 minutes once a week.  In a crisis, where a great deal of support is needed, the therapist might meet with the child or teen more frequently.  The length of the treatment will depend on the nature of the difficulty, and can be anywhere from three months to a year or more.  Often the therapist can give you some idea after getting to know your child.

What should you tell your child or teen about going to see a therapist?

As in any new situation, a child or adolescent may be apprehensive and possibly quite negative about going to see a therapist.  It is best to tell them a few days in advance by informing them that you both are going to see someone who can help with problems in the family.  Once you have made the decision to seek therapy for your child, insist that your child “check it out.”  Don’t let their apprehension deter you.  If you are having difficulty getting your child to go, talk with the counselor about it, who can give you some suggestions.

What should you expect from your child or teen after the first visit?

Some children will talk about their meeting with their therapist in an open and spontaneous way, while others will not say much about it at all.  Most adolescents will share little about  their sessions.  The rule of thumb is to listen, don’t press or cross-examine your child and do not evaluate, judge or give opinions.  Just be a good listener.

What contact should you have with your child or teen’s therapist?

Generally, counselors will not disclose to the parents any specifics about what a child has told them but will give parents their overall impression of the difficulties the child is experiencing and how they can be helpful.  Parents are extremely important to the therapeutic process and will be included in the treatment plans.  Your cooperation is critical to a successful outcome.  The amount of parent contact will vary greatly; you should discuss this with the therapist at the beginning of treatment so you will know what to expect.

Most therapists will have an initial meeting with parents to discuss their concerns about the child.  It is important that both parents attend this meeting even if they do not both live with the child.  If, in the case of divorce or separation, this is too uncomfortable, separate meetings can be held with each parent.  Step-parents should be included in these meetings if they have regular contact with the child or teen.

What is confidential and what is not?

For psychotherapy to be most effective, the child or teen must feel safe with the therapist.  This can best be accomplished if they know that what they say is confidential and will not be revealed to anyone without their permission.  However, confidentiality can be broken if the counselor feels the child is in danger in some way or threatens someone.



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