Therapy for Children

Many of the parents I work with have lots of worries about bringing their child to therapy. They can range from general questions about how quickly the problem will resolve itself through to more concerns over some of topics causing undue distress in children.

It is normal to have questions; it is also important to ask questions too so you can feel assured and comfortable as a parent.  Bringing your child for therapy is a decision which is not to be taken lightly.

When to seek a child therapist?

  • experience a significant loss or life event
  • decline in school performance
  • changes in mood, social activities, relationships, or behaviour which are persistent and concerning in nature
  • changes in your child’s temperament – happy disposition to withdrawn and shy
  • low self-esteem
  • poor self-image
  • sexual, physical, verbal or psychological abuse or other traumatic event
  • bereavement
  • family or friendship breakdown
  • infant mental health – attachment issues, fussiness, behaviour problems
  • age inappropriate behaviour

What kind of approach is best for my child?

As with all kinds of therapy, there are different types and it can be confusing to know which therapeutic modality will be the right fit for your child.  As with adults, it is not a case of one size fits all.

The approaches I use in working with children are shown by evidence-based research and practice to support the unique developmental needs of children in a child-centred way:

  • play therapy
  • arts therapy
  • attachment framework
  • model of developmental trauma

Concerns over developmental delays, disability, or a need for diagnosis requires formal assessment by either a paediatrician or specialist psychologist (clinical, developmental, or child trained).  Where the issues are complex, linking in with a multi-discipline team can be of benefit.

What age can a child come to therapy?

Individual sessions can begin from age four upwards which is considered to be developmentally appropriate for most children.  In some instances family sessions can be important depending on the nature of the issue.

Under this age, working with the child and primary care-giver provides an opportunity to strengthen the bond between both baby and parent.  The relationship between child and parent provides a life-lasting template for relationships and emotional regulation taken into adulthood.  Disrupted attachments can be improved and repaired through new and positive relational experiences co-created in the safety of therapy.

Who is the client – child or parent?

As with adults, the child is identified as the client although it is important for the therapist and parent to mutually collaborate in supporting the child, albeit in differing ways.  Children have the right to privacy and confidentiality despite their age.  Despite this, any therapist worth their salt should make reasonable efforts to also establish a positive working relationship with parents as well as the child in situations where this is possible.

How long will counselling take?

This is a difficult question to answer as some issues are quickly resolved, where more complex issues can take a long time.  For example, recovery from trauma takes years and often means accessing mental health services as a child moves through developmental periods.

Given the vulnerability of children and the importance of the therapeutic relationship as being a safe and reliable one, it is critical children can access counselling on a regular and ongoing basis when it is required.  Early termination or cessation of sessions can be harmful to the child at worst, or mean continuance of problems at best.

If you have concerns about how long counselling could take or is taking, talk with the therapist and explain your concerns.  Often therapeutic goals can be revised so the child can leave therapy with some positive changes.