10 Things Your Child’s Therapist Hopes You Know

6 min read

I believe that parenting is the most intense, meaningful, and difficult task a person can take part in. When your child is having challenges that prompt you to reach out to a therapist, that initial call takes courage. You are enlisting someone who you likely do not know to help. As therapists who meet with children and adolescents, we will do our best to meet your family’s needs. What follows are 10 things we hope you know.

1. Seeking Therapy is Wise. It is Nothing to Be Ashamed Of.

In our times, the number of children and adolescents in therapy is higher than ever before. Some youth come to counseling to work on a particular goal while others are seeking to better themselves. There is no shame in either. Being in therapy does not mean that there is anything ‘wrong’ with your child, your parenting, or your family. Your reaching out for psychotherapy for your child is no different than seeking any other health service. It is an act of love and shows that you care about their wellbeing.

2. To Help Your Child We Need Them (and You) to Trust Us

Confidentiality is a key piece of the therapeutic relationship. Most states have some confidentiality laws regarding children and adolescents that range from the youth having near absolute confidentiality to states where the parent has all permissions that the young client has. In all states, we will inform you when we perceive a serious risk to your child’s safety, such as if your child is making plans for suicide. We can only help youth with those things we know about. Most youth will share very little without some promise of confidentiality. Your child will need some level of confidentiality for therapy to be successful.

3. We are Not Here to Judge

Psychology has an unfortunate history of blaming parents when a child is struggling. Sadly, many parents carry their guilt regarding their children’s problems. Modern practices understand that youth, families, and the struggles that bring them to therapy are complex. Finding someone to blame is not a part of the therapy process. We understand that there may be differences between how you and your child see things. There are likely times when the youth does not think things are ‘fair’ or might be in conflict with you, especially if they are an adolescent. We get that. We are not here to judge your parenting or to tell you how to parent.

4. We Are Not Drill Sergeants

Therapy is not a means of enforcing household rules. We are not here to tell your child that you are right and they are wrong. We are here to help your child reflect on their values, to move toward those, and to work through social-emotional growth. Similarly, in all states conversion therapy is illegal. If you are seeking to work through family difficulties relating to your youth coming out, therapy is an excellent space for that conversation. If you hope that we will set your child ‘straight’ and talk them out of a sexual orientation, that is not something we do.

5. There Are Times We May Ask You to Attend Appointments With Your Child

Therapy with youth often involves the family. Protocols such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (Kliethermes et al., 2017) instruct for conjoint child-caregiver sessions as a step in the therapy. Similarly, there may be times when family sessions could benefit the youth in terms of giving a place for them to express what they are feeling. Family sessions can be powerfully healing. If we invite you to a session with your child please know that this is not because we are planning to ambush you or because we think your family is broken. This is a normal part of the process.

6. We Don’t Know Everything, but We Do Know Some Things

Psychotherapy is a skilled profession. Most therapists achieve a master’s degree or Ph.D. in their profession, amounting to six to eight years of schooling. In addition, most receive two years of post-graduate practice under supervision, and ongoing continuing education after that. There is much more to family and life than what you can learn in a class, yet our training gives us skills in specific psychotherapies just as a physical therapist’s training gives them skills in their profession. Some experiential activities, or strategies we utilize can be mysterious without knowing the reasoning. For example, an art experiential might be designed to build rapport with an adolescent or to help them challenge a self-limiting belief. Without knowledge of the therapy protocol though, it could seem random. If you are ever confused by our approaches or have questions, we hope you will ask. Graduate school might not make us experts on all there is to know about the human condition, but we are scholars.

7. We Hope You Will Bring Your Child to Their Appointments

We can only help your kid if they come to their appointments. We understand that after-school programs and family activities make this difficult at times. Most therapists have only a few precious appointments outside school hours. We hope you will work with us to make time work. We want your child to thrive. Missing a therapy session is not like missing a piano lesson or sports practice. Repeated missed sessions can really throw a kid off if they are working through a particular treatment. We spend time outside sessions planning effective interventions. Attending appointments gives us the best odds that our interventions will be successful.

8. We Don’t Want Money to Be a Barrier to Your Child Getting the Help They Need

Therapy can be expensive. Therapists want to make it accessible. We understand that talking about finances is hard. If the price of therapy is ever beyond what your family can afford, we want to know. Many of us offer sliding fee scales. If we don’t, we can refer to other resources. Money should never be a reason for a child to not get the help they need.

9. We Can Coordinate With Your Child’s School if You Wish

Sometimes a youth needs extra support at school such as that provided by a 504 plan or IEP. Most therapists, myself included, are happy to collaborate with schools. This could be a conversation with the school’s social worker, a letter recommending accommodations, or attendance at an IEP meeting. Just ask.

10. We Recognize That You Play an Infinitely Greater Role in Your Child’s Life Than We Will

You have likely known your child their entire life. We are late to the game. In the same gest, we will be in their lives for just a season while you will hopefully remain with them for the long-term. We do well to respect you and your wisdom. The same, improving family relationships is likely to benefit your child, in the long run, more than our work alone.

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