Five things to tell children about starting therapy by Allison Andrews, PsyD



Bringing your child to therapy can be an emotionally confusing experience. While you know that your child and your family can benefit from some objective, expert help there are lots of feelings of ambivalence that come up. Many parents ask us how to talk to their children about coming to see us. They aren’t sure waht to tell their child to facilitate the transition of talking about struggles with a therapist. Below are our suggestions of how to approach this conversation with your child(ren).

1) First, be honest.  Kids, even little children, know when there is a problem. They know if they are anxious or having meltdowns or cannot get their school work done. Teenagers know if they are depressed or struggling in school or cannot pay attention.

Most children are not surprised when parents seek support and help.

Tell children about why you are seeking help in developmentally appropriate language. For example: I want us to struggle less with homework or I notice you worry a lot and I want you to be able to worry less.

2) Be in it together.  As a parent you are a big part of the therapy experience.

You as a parent are a big part of the therapy experience.  Depending on the presenting issue and the age of the child, in fact, you may come into the room quite a lot, either by yourselves and with your child.  For example, if you have a six year old that is having trouble with morning and evening routines, you are the person who will need support from the therapist to find different ways to address those moments.

If you are bringing in an anxious middle schooler often you will be invited into the room at the end of some sessions so that your tween can share with you the strategies they are learning.

And even if you are not coming into the room at all because your child needs that space to do some work completely on their own, it is still your support and encouragement that helps make the therapy experience a positive one.

3) Think carefully about your own fears and concerns about seeing a therapist.  Your children will only think it is strange or weird if you give them the impression that it is that way. If you think that getting help is a normal and good thing to do, well, they will also.

4) Let your child know that their experience and their opinion, thoughts and feelings matters.  

At the core, psychotherapy should feel helpful and allow you and your child to function better in your lives after a few sessions. A healthy therapeutic process allows space for many “experts,” the therapist has some expertise in strategies that help heal. The child and parent are experts on who they are, how they feel, what works for them. In this process, your child’s experience of therapy matters greatly. We truly want to know what is and isn’t helpful in our work together so we can adjust how we use our expertise to best help the child and family we are working with in the moment.

5) Finally, be positive.

Effective, collaborative psychotherapy works. Children and families get better after some time with a therapist.  While there are no “magic” interventions, most everyone who visits with a high quality therapist will experience some relief and improvement in functioning.

What therapy offers is a new perspective, a new way of thinking or a new way of approaching a challenge in everyday life.  We can give parents and children a chance to move on from patterns and routines that simply do not work anymore.


Looking for support for your child, teen and/or family?

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