Signs That Your Child Should See a Therapist
How can I use therapy to help my child?
As a parent, watching your child endure intense mental and emotional suffering can be agonizing. While showing love and care towards your child can help, it is best to seek professional help if your child has experienced trauma or suffers from a chronic mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy can benefit almost anyone, but it can be substantially helpful and even lifesaving for those who struggle with severe behavioral health issues, including some children.
What does a child therapist do?
A child psychotherapist is a trained mental health professional who can assess, diagnose, and treat children who struggle with mental, emotional, social, or psychological problems. Child therapists can help children with issues such as healing from past traumatic events, coping with learning disabilities, or overcoming low self-esteem. Therapy sessions with child therapists can be held one-on-one with children, one-on-one with parents, or in group sessions with families depending on individual needs in each situation. Child psychologists can hold therapy sessions, administer psychological tests, and conduct research. Child therapists and psychologists can provide referrals to child psychiatrists if necessary. Child psychiatrists can prescribe medications.
What are the pros and cons of children’s therapy?
There are pros and cons to enlisting a therapist’s help while raising your child. Among the many potential benefits of therapy for children are improved communication skills, powerful techniques to overcome mental challenges, better preparation for adult life, and the discovery of new and healthy outlets for expression such as music and art. Potential cons of psychotherapy for children include high costs—in terms of both time and money, but the help a professional can give your child during the healing process will often be worth the high costs. According to psychologist Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD., some children with social anxiety may be resistant to beginning psychotherapy because opening up to a stranger about their feelings might trigger the child’s fear of rejection or judgment. Similarly, a depressed child may feel resentful at being told to change his or her behavior, but this does not mean that treatment is hopeless. If your child is resistant to therapy approach the situation with empathy, seek guidance from your child’s pediatrician, and be open to trying different therapists to find the one best suited to your child’s needs.
What is the difference between a child counselor, therapist, psychologist, and psychiatrist?
The terms “counseling” and “therapy” are often used loosely and interchangeably as umbrella terms for personal guidance and treatment of mental health issues by a trained professional. This can often make things confusing for patients who are comparing their options and searching for the right kind of therapist. Some states have set laws requiring those who claim the title of “counselor,” “therapist,” or “psychiatrist” to meet specific licensing or certification requirements, respectively.
As a general rule, the training and licensure requirements for a psychotherapist are stricter than those for a generic “counselor”. Both counselors and therapists are trained professionals who have at least a master’s degree in their particular area of expertise. Psychologists may also act as therapists but always have a doctoral degree in psychology and are often conducting academic research in their fields rather than simply working as professional therapists. Psychiatrists are licensed as medical doctors and are the only subset of mental health professionals who are licensed to prescribe psychotropic medications. The same distinctions between the types of mental health professionals who treat adults apply to those who treat children and adolescents.. The required training to become a licensed child and adolescent psychiatrist is extensive and must include at least all of the following: four years of medical school; three years of residency training in medicine and general adult psychiatry; and two years of additional specialized residency training in psychiatric child and adolescent psychiatry. For purposes of defining terms in mental health care, “adolescents” are considered to be children between the ages of 10 to 18 while “children” can refer either to all children under 18 or more specifically to those under age 10. Before selecting a mental health professional for your child, you should carefully determine your child’s needs to the best of your ability. You may wish to seek professional advice from your family doctor or your own therapist.
How do I know if my child should see a therapist?
There are several warning signs which could indicate that your child needs to see a therapist. Most of these have to do with your child’s thoughts and feelings. As psychologist Brené Brown has stated, at a fundamental level all humans feel the need to be heard, seen, and valued. Even the children of good parents can struggle to feel valued or understood. Sometimes children struggle because they have mental or physical disabilities or underlying trauma, while in other cases the root issue could simply have to do with circumstances or personality types.
You should consider seeking professional therapy for your child if your child has:
- Excessive worry, anxiety, or fearfulness
- Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Low self-confidence or self-esteem
- Overwhelming and persistent anger or irritability
- A crippling sense of feeling “out of control”
- Sudden changes in eating or sleeping habits
- An inability to concentrate on homework or other tasks
- A sudden withdrawal from family or close friends
- A sudden loss of interest in fun activities
- Excessive preoccupation with physical appearance
- Serious problems in multiple areas of life at once
- Obsessive routines such as constant hand-washing
- Repetitive self-destructive behaviors such as hair-pulling
- Comments about or indications of self-harm
- Suicidal ideation
Should I attend therapy with my child?
Depending on the situation, you may wish to attend therapy sessions with your child. State laws vary but in many states it is illegal for minors to attend therapy sessions—whether medical or psychological—without parental consent. However, several states set lower age limits: for example, California and Oregon allow minors over age 15 to provide general consent to mental health care. Other state laws make exceptions based on the circumstances and/or the type of care being provided: for example, in California a minor over age 12 can consent to mental health care if the attending professional deems the minor mature enough to participate intelligently and the minor would present a danger of physical or mental harm to self or others if left untreated. For older children or children who have troubled family situations or difficulty confiding in their parents, it can be helpful to have a safe space to express their feelings confidentially to a caring professional. For younger children or children who feel safer when their parents are present, it may be ideal to have joint therapy sessions with parent and child simultaneously. Finally, sometimes child therapists will want to meet with the child’s parents alone to recommend strategies or offer ideas on how to provide better care and parenting for the child’s unique situation.
Can children use virtual therapy or online counseling?
Yes. Children as well as adults can see therapists virtually, and online child therapy is an especially good option during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, some children may experience less social anxiety during a virtual therapy session from the comfort of home than they would during an in-person session at a stranger’s office. SAMI-Aid contracts with a wide array of behavioral health professionals who are licensed, trained, and experiences in working with children. Creating a SAMI-Aid account for your child is easy and booking an appointment is straightforward. SAMI-Aid charges a flat fee of $59.99 for all online medical, therapy, and psychiatry visits for both children and adults. SAMI-Aid also offers a Premium membership which includes two therapy sessions per month for just $79.99.
For additional information on child therapy and psychiatry sessions, please visit the SAMI-Aid FAQ pages.