How do I know if my child needs therapy?
Chances are you came to the internet and found my site because something in your gut is telling you that you and/or your child could use some help. Listen to your gut mama/papa/auntie/grandma/grandpa! From my perspective, as the clinician, I’m looking for different things depending on what the concern is. For anxiety or trauma, I’m looking at patterns of behavior and changes from the kiddo’s norm. Have there been changes in their sleep, eating, or toileting? With kiddos who struggle with behavioral challenges, it might be that they’ve always been more challenging to parent and have always seemed different than other children or their siblings. The bottom line, though, is that if something doesnt feel good for you or your little one, chances are I can help! Parenting is hard but it doesnt have to be as hard as it sometimes feels.
Will my child receive a diagnosis?
Diagnoses are actually only necessary when dealing with insurance companies, psychiatrists, and occasionally schools. In our work together, we can say that you little one has symptoms of anxiety without saying that they have an anxiety disorder. Occasionally, though, it might feel really helpful to say, “yeah, right now your kiddo has Oppositional Defiant Disorder which explains why parenting her feels so hard, but ODD is simply a description of behavior and can go away with treatment!” For my sake, a child does not need to have a diagnosis to receive treatment but we can discuss that more as we work together.
What does a child therapist do?
Lucky for me there is a lot of play, laughter, and joy in therapy for kids. Play is a child’s primary language and is how they learn about and process their experiences. I often see myself as a translator between children and their parents--helping parents to understand the motivation behind a child’s behavior and helping children to understand their parents reactions (e.g., why is mommy crying?). No matter the goal: increasing compliance, decreasing anxiety, decreasing tantrums, increasing confidence, improving attachment, improving peer interactions and social skills, healing from trauma, play is the vehicle for the young child. What changes depending on the goal is the way the play is structured or presented to the child and the parent.
Will I, as the parent, be involved in my child's sessions?
As the parent you are actually more important than I am in the therapeutic process. I will talk to you and engage with you at every session and it’s likely that I wont even meet with your child without you present. One of the great rewards of this work with young children is to watch parents turn into their own child’s therapist over time which serves families long after our work together is done.
What can I expect at my first appointment?
Our first appointment will have three parts. First, the least fun of them all, the paperwork. There will be a form for your child’s developmental history, a consent for treatment, and a release of confidential information form (if that’s appropriate). In my practice I always use standardized assessment measures, aka questionnaires, to get another perspective on how your child is doing compared to their same-age peers. Mental health treatment, counseling, and therapy can be very squishy by which I mean we often ask how things are going and we hope that things generally feel better. With standardized assessments, we’ll get a concrete number for how things are going and we will be able to watch that number change over time. Not only will things feel better over the course of treatment but it is incredibly satisfying to watch those numbers change as well! Prior to our first session I’ll email you these documents so you can complete them at your leisure.
Then, there will an opportunity for you to talk individually with me about your concerns, your kiddo’s health and developmental history, and his/her strengths and everything you love about your child. Lastly, I will meet, talk and play with your kiddo with you present. I almost always introduce myself the same way to the little ones:
“My name is Ms. Halley. I’m kind of like a doctor except I never ever ever give shots. I’m like a doctor who talks to kids about how they feel/when something scary has happened/when kids have trouble listening and following directions (or whatever the specific concern is).”
We might read a book together, I might ask them to tell me about times they’ve felt different feelings, or we might just play and become comfortable together and comfortable in the space. They will always get a sticker at the end of our time together, and I’ll give you a preliminary recommendation while we discuss next steps.
How can I prepare my child for the first appointment?
I’m a big fan of letting kids know what is going to happen, especially if they’re anxious creatures. So, the day before our first session, when you’re talking to your kiddo about what is going to happen the next day, you can mention that you’re going to meet a helper. You can tell them that there will be a time when they’ll need to wait (probably with another trusted grownup) while we talk about boring grownup things and then they’ll have a chance to talk and play too. It would probably be a good idea, too, to show them my picture and the pictures of the toys in my office. And be sure to tell them that they’ll get a sticker at the end!
How long can I expect to be in treatment with my child?
There is no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to therapy; you may even know that from your own personal experience. The great news is that using evidence-based treatments means that you’re guaranteed to not be in treatment with your child forever. Typically what I tell families is that the rate at which we get through treatment depends on how consistently we’re able to meet but that we should be able to see significant improvement within six months.
Is it my fault that my child is having trouble?
Definitely not! I believe, 100%, that every parent is doing the best they can. Particularly when kids have experienced trauma or something scary, you never would have chosen for your child to go through that. Most scary things happen way outside of our control. Regarding more behavioral concerns, chances are you’re parenting in the way that you were parented or you’re parenting in the way that you parented your other children and this particular kiddo needs something different. The beauty in all of these situations is that even though you havent caused the problem, you can be and will be part of the solution!
What does evidence-based treatment mean?
Evidence-based treatment (EBT) means that a PhD., somewhere in a university on a hill-top, designed an experiment to see if a certain way of doing therapy, painstakingly controlling for other factors, would show measurable improvements for whatever their target symptoms were. Usually these studies are conducted through randomized controlled trials (RCTs) which is the pinnacle of research methods and are then replicated by other researchers to make sure what they found is legit. After enough experiments a treatment modality becomes evidence-based and researchers turn their attention to sharing this information with direct practice clinicians in the community for the benefit of children and families.
Do you have recommendations for additional information?
A couple of my favorite organizations for information on health and development are:
Stay tuned for a list of recommendations on books and toys to support your kiddo's development!
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