Therapy FAQ

How to Choose the Right Child Therapist

Children may benefit from therapy for any number of reasons, for concerns both small and large. Child therapists have special training and experience that qualifies them to work with children across a wide range of psychological and lifestyle matters. They’re armed with tools and techniques to help children process difficult emotions, develop coping techniques, and […]

isbell oliva garcia grow therapy By Isbell Oliva-Garcia, LMHC

Updated on Jan 12, 2024

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Children may benefit from therapy for any number of reasons, for concerns both small and large. Child therapists have special training and experience that qualifies them to work with children across a wide range of psychological and lifestyle matters. They’re armed with tools and techniques to help children process difficult emotions, develop coping techniques, and build social skills. Child counselors may use play, art, or music to help children express themselves and communicate with the world around them. So, if you’re wanting to know how to find a suitable children’s therapist, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to cover what a child therapist is, what they do, and how you can find one that’s nearby and accepts your insurance.

What Is a Child Therapist?

Any pediatric healthcare provider will tell you, children are not simply small adults. Their brains and bodies are in an ongoing state of change and growth. A child’s developmental age and environment influence how they process events and feelings. Therefore, finding a therapist who focuses on children is essential. 

A child therapist has a Master’s degree in psychology or a counseling-related field. However, the title “child therapist” may be used to describe a number of mental health professionals with varying degrees and backgrounds. 

The list below has a few of the degrees and paths someone might take to become a child therapist. The training and emphasis for each varies. For example, psychiatrists are qualified to diagnose mental health disorders and prescribe medication, whereas licensed clinical counselors are trained to help people develop daily life skills but cannot diagnose or prescribe medication. A child therapist may be a:

A therapist may also work with parents or families to help everyone in the family system. They may specialize in anxiety, depression, trauma, or grief counseling services. Others may have additional training or experience with specific age groups like adolescents or elementary-age children. 

Could My Child Benefit From a Therapist?

According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 37% of high school students experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Children face challenges and stressors that didn’t exist 10 years ago. Yet, they don’t have the physical and mental maturity to handle all of the emotions and experiences around them. They may also have mental health disorders that interfere with their ability to function at home, work, or school. Therapy can help children understand the world around them, express feelings, and process events.

Therapy provides a controlled, neutral environment in which they can learn and practice social skills, discuss difficult topics, or work through feelings through various mediums like play, art, or music. If they have a mental health disorder, a therapist can teach them and their parents how to manage their symptoms.

While this list isn’t exhaustive, therapy can help children with the following:

When younger children are involved, the therapist may also work with parents with parent-focused approaches. That could include parent training in behavior management to help them set the child up for success in the home and at school. The process of creating a supportive home environment through behavior management may involve incorporating new ways of play, talking, or integrating activities that help children express their thoughts and feelings in a productive way. Sometimes small changes to the home environment, like reducing noise at certain times of the day, can help children better process sights, sounds, and textures.  The therapist may periodically observe you with your child to see how you interact. They can make suggestions to help facilitate the goals you’ve set for you and your child. 

As children age, their mental health needs change as well. For example, depression is more prevalent in adolescents than in elementary-age children, though young children can experience it as well. Young children also usually require more parental involvement in therapy than adolescents. However, in most cases, regardless of child age, parents talk with the therapist to incorporate new ways of communication and interacting to support their child.

What Should I Expect in a Typical Session of Child Therapy?

The schedule and makeup of a child’s therapy session vary based on the reason for therapy. However, the first session typically involves an interview and assessments. As a parent, you might fill out questionnaires while the therapist observes your child playing. Teens may fill out their own questionnaires to give the therapist insights of their current mental state. These assessments and questionnaires are important to reveal underlying issues that could influence your child’s behavior. They’re also used to mark and track progress. 

Therapists who use play therapy may observe younger children playing with different toys. Those who work with teens may want to talk to the teen alone to get to know them and gauge how they feel about therapy. 

The therapist then develops a treatment plan. They can use any number of modalities and therapeutic methods, depending on the child and family’s needs. The evidence-based therapies that might be used include:

However, there are many different types of therapy. A therapist may combine several types to best serve the needs of your child. 

As with adult therapy, confidentiality is a vital part of child therapy; but it’s a bit of a gray area that you’ll need to address early on with children. Children under 18 don’t always have a right to confidentiality. Ask the therapist about confidentiality policies in the first session. Some therapists ask parents to agree to full provider-patient confidentiality unless the therapist thinks the child may hurt themselves or others. This type of policy helps children feel safe telling the therapist things that they may not share with their parents. As a parent, you can decide what you’re comfortable with and what you think will be best for your child.

How Do I Find a Child Therapist?

Finding the right child therapist can feel overwhelming. Typing in “child therapist near me” can provide a list of confusing results with therapists, clinicians, and counselors, and a dizzying number of acronyms behind their names. Then there’s the issue of finding someone that accepts your insurance. Grow Therapy cuts through the confusion, providing a curated list of licensed mental health providers after you’ve filled out a simple three-question survey. The initial survey includes an option to look specifically for a child or teen counselor. 

Grow Therapy’s list of 6,000+ providers includes therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and counselors in 46 states. When you enter your information, you only see providers licensed in your state who meet your search criteria. If you need someone who can manage medications, for example, you can filter the results to find those qualified to offer medication management. 

From there, you can see provider credentials, years of experience, and the general philosophy for their practice. They may offer keywords like “solution-oriented” or “empowering,” along with a bio to give you a glimpse into the therapist’s personality and therapeutic approach. The bottom of the bios shows the provider’s next available appointment, which can be as soon as two or three days. 

What Questions Should I Ask a Child Therapist?

Some therapists offer free consultations during which you can ask questions to get a better idea of how they work and if they’ll be a good fit for your family. With others, the first session gives you a chance to ask questions and get a feel for how the therapist professionally functions. 

Here are some questions to consider asking the therapist:

Also, consider cultural or spiritual beliefs that are important to you. For example if you prefer a certain faith-based therapy or if you or your child are a member of the LGBTQ+ community, will the therapist be understanding and supportive? 

You want to work with someone with whom you feel you and your child can have a strong therapeutic alliance, a relationship of trust between therapist and client. A strong alliance increases the chances of positive outcomes in therapy. Sometimes it can take a few sessions to get a good feel for how the therapist works. Remember that you can always change providers if your first choice doesn’t work out.

Additional Resources

Stigmas surrounding mental health continue to fade. Excellent resources have aided that process and helped children and families get the support they need. Here are more information and resources as you prepare your child for the treatment they need:

Final Thoughts 

The mental health of children decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to be an issue for many families. Early intervention can help your child process difficult emotions, circumstances, and experiences. Therapy can also give your child tools to help them succeed socially and academically. 

Grow Therapy believes everyone should have access to affordable mental health care. We can connect you with a network of 6,000+ providers, with filters to help you narrow down the list to include providers licensed in your state and who accept your insurance for in-person or online therapy. Book your first appointment after answering three simple questions, and get your child on a path to better mental health. 

FAQs

  • You can start your child in therapy at any time if you think they may benefit from it. In general, early interventions work best for trauma, behavior problems, and mental health disorders. Your child may see the therapist weekly at first but add more space between appointments as they gain confidence and learn new skills.

  • The jurisdiction in which you live determines what a therapist is required to tell parents. Discuss jurisdictional confidentiality policies and the therapist’s confidentiality policy if they have one in the first session.

  • Therapists must have a master’s degree in a mental-health-related field, like psychology or marriage and family counseling. They focus on solutions, helping children process their feelings and experiences, and developing coping skills. A psychologist has either a PhD or PsyD and often has a clinical or research background. This degree requires five to seven years of school. Most states also require a one or two-year-long internship before the psychologist can be licensed.

About the author
isbell oliva garcia grow therapy Isbell Oliva-Garcia, LMHC

Get an inside look at what a child therapist does and how they can help your child process difficult emotions or cope with a disorder.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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