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Parents and teachers are usually the first to recognize that a child has a problem with emotions or behavior. Still, the decision to seek professional help can be difficult and painful for a parent. The first step is to gently try to talk to the child. An honest open talk about feelings can often help. Parents may choose to consult with the child's physicians, teachers, members of the clergy, or other adults who know the child well. These steps may resolve the problems for the child and family.

For a list of behaviors that can indicate difficulties, click here.

For rates of youth behavior problems click here.

What happens in therapy?

If what you know about psychotherapy comes from TV or the movies, you may have some misguided notions about what goes on in a practicing psychologist's office. Make sure you know the reality instead of the myths so you can benefit from all that psychotherapy has to offer.

Many types of therapy emphasize talking and thinking about feelings and experiences, which can be particularly challenging for young children. In working with children, counselors often use therapies that allow children to express themselves non-verbally, such as play therapy, sand tray therapy, and art therapy. In some cases, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR), which relies very little on verbalization of experiences, can be appropriate for work with youth.   

Youth of any age may feel uncomfortable, afraid, or ashamed about communicating what they are experiencing to an adult they do not know. If you are a parent or caregiver, these tips can help when talking to children about therapy and mental health treatment:

  • Find a good time to talk and assure them that they are not in trouble.
  • Listen actively.
  • Take your child’s concerns, experiences, and emotions seriously.
  • Try to be open, authentic, and relaxed.
  • Talk about how common the issues they are experiencing may be.
  • Explain that the role of a therapist is to provide help and support.
  • Explain that a confidentiality agreement can be negotiated so children—especially adolescents—have a safe space to share details privately, while acknowledging that you will be alerted if there are any threats to their safety.

When searching for a therapist or counselor, it may help to seek advice from a school counselor or pediatrician who can refer you to someone with specialized training and experience in working with youth. Some therapists specialize in family therapy, in which multiple family members may attend sessions together, as well as independently, if necessary. There are also treatments designed to address parenting skills, such as parent-child interaction therapy. These treatments may be useful when a child’s behavior becomes difficult to manage.

Many kinds of psychotherapy exist. There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach. In addition, some therapies have been scientifically tested more than others. Some people may have a treatment plan that includes only one type of psychotherapy. Others receive treatment that includes elements of several different types. The kind of psychotherapy a person receives depends on his or her needs.

Although there are different types of psychotherapy, each relies on communications as the basic tool for bringing about change in a person's feelings and behaviors. Psychotherapy may involve an individual child, a group of children, a family, or multiple families. In children and adolescents, playing, drawing, building, and pretending, as well as talking, are important ways of sharing feelings and resolving problems.

As part of the initial assessment, a qualified mental health professional will determine the need for psychotherapy. This decision will be based on such things as the child's current problems, history, level of development, ability to cooperate with treatment, and what interventions are most likely to help with the presenting concerns. Psychotherapy is often used in combination with other treatments (medication, behavior management, or work with the school). The relationship that develops between the therapist and the client is very important. The child or adolescent must feel comfortable, safe and understood. This type of trusting environment makes it much easier for the child to express his/her thoughts and feelings and to use the therapy in a helpful way.

Psychotherapy helps children and adolescents in a variety of ways. They receive emotional support, resolve conflicts with people, understand feelings and problems, and try out new solutions to old problems. Goals for therapy may be specific (change in behavior, improved relations with friends or family), or more general (less anxiety, better self-esteem). The length of psychotherapy depends on the complexity and severity of problems.

Click here for therapies offered at Razzino and Associates, PC

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