What To Know Before your Child Begins Therapy

Updated October 5, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Therapists can deal with many distinct types of mental disorders and emotional problems in kids' therapy. If your child has anxiety, self control issues, or has been bullied at school, a therapist can work with them to help them learn about and overcome their problems. As the parent, you can make it possible for your child to receive the right help for their situation through means such as an online therapy service.

Across the U.S., many children receive mental health services each year. In 2019, 10% of children between the ages of 5 and 17 participated in child counseling with a mental health professional. It’s not just teenagers, either; 10.8% of young children, between the ages of 5 and 11, had received treatment in the form of therapy or medication. Even for children who haven’t experienced trauma or mental illness, therapy can improve their well being by helping them work through small struggles and develop healthy coping skills that last well into adulthood.

What parents needs to know before their child starts therapy.

As parents, sometimes we feel like we are the best people to help our children; but sometimes we do not know what to do, and in those situations, taking your child to see a therapist can be the most helpful and effective way to help your child. Your child might have an easier time opening up to an unbiased person about their feelings or problems, or it might be that your child needs mental health treatment that you are not equipped to provide. The first step is knowing what you can expect during treatment and then finding the right provider.

Your Child May Seem More Upset After A Session

It's only natural to assume that your child will feel better after they have a chance to talk to a therapist. Sometimes, that's exactly what will happen. However, there may be times when the session brings up distressing feelings. These feelings are important and need to be dealt with, but they can also make your child feel upset or overwhelmed. Be there to support your child. Therapy isn't easy, but with the right counselor, your child can make great strides. It is likely to be helpful to explain to your child on the way to therapy that sometimes they might feel upset afterward and that it is okay. Some parents like to take their child to do a fun activity after counseling, for kids to help form a positive association. You all might go to the zoo or just to get ice cream. Some children might want to go home and be with their feelings and thoughts. You know your child best so follow your instincts and monitor your child’s behavior. Your child may say that he or she does not want to go anymore. Again, listen to your instincts. Are you seeing improvements? What kind of feedback are you getting from the therapists? Kids do not like getting shots or going to the dentist either, so just because your child says she does not want to go does not mean you should stop taking them based on that alone.

Parents often ask these common questions:

What are some signs your child might need counseling?

Is it good for kids to go to therapy?

Should I put my 7 year old in therapy?

How do I get my child tested for behavior problems?

What does a child therapist do?

How often should kids go to therapy?

How do I prepare my child for therapy?

How long does it take for therapy to work for child?

Do therapists tell parents?

Can parents sit in on therapy sessions?

Some therapists stick with alerting parents only when the child is a harm to himself or others, and some will clue you in on more minor but still serious problems in the child’s life. All of this should be discussed in front of your child. As long as your child knows what to expect, they are unlikely to feel exposed or tricked. This is really important because you want the therapy office to be a safe place for your child.

Therapists are mandated reporters for child abuse and neglect so be aware that if your child makes an outcry, the therapist will be obligated to follow his or her procedures and may call the local child welfare office. This is also something that you can talk about with the therapist so you have a clear understanding of what to expect throughout your child’s mental health treatment.

The Therapist Will Likely Give You Parenting Advice

An excellent therapist won’t share everything kids talk about in therapy, in order to respect the boundaries of the patient/provider relationship. However, if they uncover a problem in the way you are parenting your child, they will share parenting advice with you. They may also suggest parenting tactics that are best suited for your child's challenges. Try not to think of their advice as an intrusion or a reprimand. Instead, think of this as a part of the mental health services the counselor is providing. In fact, this is usually the reason why a parent will bring a child to therapy. There is something going on that the parent is unsure how to best help their child with, so it makes sense to get ideas and feedback from the therapist. It would be kind of odd to never discuss your child's progress with your therapist.

There is a big difference in a progress update and the therapist breaking the confidence she holds with your child. Also, take all the opportunities to tell the therapist what you are seeing at home. It is not uncommon for a child to come into therapy and say everything is "fine" when in reality, there are big stressors going on at home or school. The therapist can really help and give you ideas and feedback on things you can do to best support your child’s mental health.

There may be times that the therapist may want to pull you in for a session of family therapy. For younger children, it’s more likely that the whole family may be involved at one point or another. However, regardless of your child’s age, the therapist may ask for you to participate in sessions in order to facilitate conversation with your child. Maybe there is something that your child wants to tell you but does not know how to, or maybe you and your child—especially if they are a teenager—are having trouble communicating. The therapist can help you both learn different ways to talk to each other, and even facilitate exercises and role plays to help you both learn new skills.

It is very important that you do not feel like the therapist is all-knowing or is a "better" parent than you. You know your child best and ultimately, you know what is best for your child. Your child’s therapist is a resource, not a replacement. It is just like when you take your child to the doctor. You may not do everything the doctor says, but you feel confident in their professional judgment and take what you need.

Getting Started With Kids Therapy

What parents needs to know before their child starts therapy.

Finding the right therapist for your child may take more than one try and required you to cycle through several child counseling services. Look for several different therapists to interview, and get recommendations from your primary care doctor, family, and friends. Search specifically for professionals who provide counseling for kids. Then, talk to each counselor on your list before you decide which one to choose. Ask them what types of therapy they use (like play therapy, art therapy, or behavioral therapy) and what ages they generally see. In addition, tell them the specific things about your child that are leading you to get started with counseling. If you decide the therapist is not a good fit or the therapy is not effective, talk to the therapist. If things do not improve, you can switch. There are many therapists providing mental health services, and you want to find one who feels like the right fit for you and your child.

BetterHelp Is There

Studies have shown that online counseling can help parents with children who are experiencing mental health issues. In one study, published in Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, researchers examined the efficacy of online therapy when helping parents better interact with children exhibiting symptoms of behavior disorders. Researchers found that online counseling services can help foster better communication and interactions between parents and children, stating that it provides valuable tools and effective counseling that might not otherwise be available to underserved families.

As discussed above, if you are ready to begin a treatment program for your child, or you are seeking parent-child interaction therapy, online counseling is a powerful resource. With telemental health services through BetterHelp, you’ll have the opportunity to speak with a therapist from the comfort of your home. Plus, you’ll be able to reach out to your licensed counselor any time, day or night. If you’re having trouble communicating with your child, have a question, or simply want to chat, send a message and your therapist will get back to you as soon as they are able. The experts at BetterHelp know how to guide you as a parent of a child experiencing mental health issues. Read below for reviews of counselors, from those who have sought help in the past.

Counselor Reviews

“I have been working with Carolyn for 6 months now, and have tremendously benefited from her counseling as I support my daughter for Anorexia. Anorexia is a very complex mind-body illness and the family members can play a very important role in the recovery by educating ourselves and understanding her behavior. This allows me to use correct words with her, and watch by own behavior with her so I am supporting her in a healthy manner, and not enabling her illness further. Additionally, my own stress has been very difficult as I watch my sweet daughter suffer, so I had been in need of finding coping skills for myself. Carolyn's expertise, her very compassionate but clear guidelines and feedback to me have made be more confident and capable in dealing with this difficult illness. I am finding a lot of strength from her therapy, and most importantly I am handling my daughter better and can see the difference in my interactions with her. I am thankful to Carolyn for coming into my life when I needed someone to guide me through this. In addition to our weekly video chats, I am able to send her quick texts on the BetterHelp app if an issue arises and I need her thoughts, and Carolyn replies back very quickly with more tips to help me. I have recommended BetterHelp to friends as access to a great therapist like Carolyn would not have been possible for me without this platform... while I also do this from the convenience of my time and home. Thank you Carolyn, and thank you BetterHelp for being here for me!”

“Tammi has made such a difference in my life. Had I not had her help I’m pretty sure I would’ve lost all contact with my 19 year old daughter who chose to live with her father. She understands teenagers and moms of teenagers! So kind, wise, experienced, compassionate, and level headed, I can’t say enough good about her!!”

Conclusion

While it can be daunting and overwhelming to find a therapist for your child, remember you are doing this because as a parent you are not expected to know everything and there are times when the best thing to do is get some help from an outside source.

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