What Is Children's Therapy? Play Therapy And Other Methods

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated March 29, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Content Warning: Please be advised that this article mentions topics like childhood trauma, which may be triggering to some readers. Read with discretion. 

If you are considering therapy for your child, it may be challenging to know where to start. There are many treatment modalities available, from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and trauma-focused therapy to sand tray therapy and play therapy for children. Children's therapy, or pediatric therapy, is a broad field. Each form of pediatric therapy offers unique benefits, and these essential services can assist children of all ages. You can find an overview of these types of support for your child or teen below.

Caring For Children Can Be Confusing

What Is Children's Therapy?

Children's therapy, or pediatric therapy, is a branch of therapy focused on the psychological needs of children. As with adults, there are times when children may benefit from a professional's therapeutic expertise. Children's behavioral therapists are trained in the specific developmental needs of children. In the same way therapists support adults, a children's therapist works with children to help them process and cope with challenges. 

Children often express emotions differently than adults, and they may not yet be able to articulate their emotions effectively. Children’s therapists are trained to understand the unique needs of children. They may have specialized training for communicating with children in ways that are accessible to them.  Many children’s therapists are trained in more than one treatment modality and might pull from various techniques to meet your child's unique needs.

Why Should A Child Go To Children's Therapy? 

There are many reasons why a parent or caregiver may consider children's therapy for their child. Traumatic life events such as the death of someone close to the child, divorce, and bullying are a few reasons you may seek therapy for your child. Often, if a child is experiencing problems in school, a teacher or school counselor may recommend that a family seek the support of a pediatric therapist.

In addition, the CDC reports that among children aged two through eight years old, 17.4% have been diagnosed with a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. Over 50% of children ages three to 17 with behavioral disorders have received treatment, and nearly 80% of children with depression have received treatment. Children's therapy is a popular and often effective approach and can help remove mental health stigmas that your child may pick up later in life. 

Common Types Of Children's Therapy 

Therapy for children can take many forms depending on the therapist and the child's unique needs. Below are a few modalities often utilized to support kids, parents, and families.  

Play Therapy

Play therapy is a therapy for children that might use play, toys, and roleplay to help children articulate and express their emotions and inner thoughts. Play therapy is designed to work from a child's perspective. There are two main types of play therapy: directive play therapy and nondirective play therapy. Both types may help a child feel at ease and open up to the therapist. 

Rather than having a child sit and answer questions, play therapy can allow them to learn skills and process emotions through their instincts to play and explore. A play therapist can use play therapy to engage children and make them feel that therapy is a fun and imaginative experience. Play therapy can also help a child build confidence or illustrate conversations. For example, they might act out a scene or tell stories indicative of their inner thoughts or emotions to help a therapist understand what they're experiencing. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used with children, adolescents, and adults. This type of therapy can teach an individual how to replace unhelpful thoughts with more constructive thoughts and use coping techniques to adjust behavior. It may offer children specific skills to cope with stimuli that make them uncomfortable. It may also address their behavioral, social, and emotional thought processes. A CBT therapist for children may explain concepts simply so that they can understand and offer unique assignments or coping skills tailored to their younger brain. 

Social Skills Training

Social skills training is another therapy that may help children with difficulty interacting with others in everyday social situations. Knowing how to maintain a conversation, make friends, or connect may come quickly for some children. Others may benefit from support.  Social skills training can teach children valuable social skills that can help them make friends, navigate interpersonal relationships, and manage difficult social situations.

Children with specific mental health conditions like social anxiety may benefit from learning about social skills and relationships. However, it’s important to note that these therapies may not be beneficial for all children, such as those with autism. Social skills training may cause these children further difficulties and stress from forced eye contact, socialization, or behaviors they do not want to partake in. In addition, some behavioral training programs were associated with increased rates of post-traumatic stress disorder in individuals with autism. 

Trauma-Focused Therapy

Trauma-focused therapies may aim to help children who have lived through traumatic events through trauma-informed care. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can affect children of all ages, including infants as young as nine months. Some child therapists are specifically trained to help children process complex thoughts and heal from adverse experiences. Trauma or PTSD in children can occur from many sources, including natural disasters, loss, divorce of caregivers, witnessing or experiencing abuse, or other adverse events. 

If you are facing or witnessing mental or physical abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat. If you're a teen or child experiencing or witnessing abuse of any kind from families or caregiver, contact the Child Help Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 or use the online chat feature.

Grief Counseling

Grief counseling can help children who may benefit from support when recovering from a loss. A child therapist can help children find healthy ways to express their emotions and understand the various stages of grief. Because children in specific developmental stages may understand and process death and other losses differently than adults, grief counseling can help them categorize these experiences in a way that makes sense. For example, some therapy centers offer grief resources to children, such as art therapy, sandboxes, or therapy groups with other kids. These treatments may allow children to express their sadness without fear of upsetting their parents. Children might also benefit from grief therapy for dealing with the loss of a family pet. 

Family Therapy

Family therapy can offer support to children alongside their families. Children with behavioral concerns may hear negative feedback at home, negatively impacting their self-esteem and worsening behaviors. 

A therapist can work with parents to develop behavioral plans, positive reinforcement strategies, and compassionate care to help them most effectively manage their child's behaviors. Many family therapies are child-centered, focusing on the child's needs, emotions, and desires to help the family and therapist conclude on the most effective treatments. 

Group Therapy 

Group therapy may help children experiencing mood disorders or loneliness. Group therapy can allow them to interact with peers experiencing similar challenges to know they aren't alone. It may be helpful for children to overcome their challenges and feel supported as part of a team. For some children, group therapy may be less intimidating than a one-on-one therapy session. Group therapy might also help children build social skills and self-esteem by allowing them to interact with others in a healing context. 

Speech Therapy

Speech therapy is a common form of therapy that can help children with speech impediments, language problems, or developmental delays. Speech therapy is not considered a mental health service; however, it may be helpful in assisting children with their communication skills. As a result, a child may feel more confident in their ability to express themselves and their feelings. Thus, in-person or online speech therapy from a licensed speech language pathologist may be beneficial for children with speech impediments or delays.

Caring For Children Can Be Confusing

Counseling Options For Parents And Teens 

Child and family counseling and therapy can be a worthwhile option for parents and adolescent children. As parenting can often come with increased responsibilities and a busy schedule, it may be challenging to find therapy for everyone in the family that fits in with school, work, or family time schedules, Now, it’s possible to find a provider by searching for "child therapist near me" to get the list of your easiest options. If there is no therapist available in your community, online therapy is available for parents over 18 and teens ages 13 to 19.  

One study explored the effectiveness of an online therapy program for parents and found the program had positive effects on parents' psychological flexibility, emotional control, mood, and coping skills. Another study examined online CBT's effectiveness in treating anxiety disorders in adolescents. It found the online delivery of CBT to be equally efficacious as clinic-based, face-to-face therapy in treating adolescent anxiety disorders.

With online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp for adults, you may connect with a child counselor from the convenience of your home without coordinating a separate trip to an office. If you are considering online counseling for your teenager, you may consider TeenCounseling, BetterHelp's sister site specifically for children aged 13 to 19. Both platforms offer the option to choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions with a licensed therapist and attend therapy from home on your own time. If you cannot find a particular type of children’s therapist in your country or community, it may be worth considering an online therapy platform.


Children can experience various challenges, and some may benefit from speaking with a children's therapist. If you're considering therapy for you or your child, you may start by learning more about the common types of therapy available. If you want additional support with your parenting concerns or want to pursue therapy for your teenager, consider contacting an in-person or online therapist for further guidance and support.  

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