It’s important to feel comfortable with every healthcare provider who is seeing your child. A child therapist for your child’s mental/behavioral health is no exception. Read below for five important qualities you should look for in a child therapist, and strategies for knowing which one is the right one for your child.
1) A great child therapist has experience working with children similar to yours.
Your child’s therapist should have education, training, and or experience to help reduce your child’s symptoms. She should explain her “scope of competency”. What’s that? That’s what the child therapist has her expertise in. Does she work with behavioral concerns like defiance and anger? If your child has worries or is fearful does the child therapist have trouble in treating anxiety?
What you can do: Explain your child’s troubles in the initial consult (cries all the time; won’t separate from you to join in with friends) and ask what experience she has had to help a child like yours.
2) A great child therapist respects the unique qualities of your child and your situation.
Equally important to number 1, your child’s therapist should be looking for strengths unique to your child. Also, while your child may have symptoms like other children she’s treated, the reasons why and circumstance behind your child’s challenges may be different.
What you can do: Your child’s therapist should not have a cookie cutter treatment plan. Listen for language specific to your child’s circumstance and feel free to clarify if her recommendation is too general. For example, if she says “I have a type of therapy I use to help children with depression,” feel comfortable to give her the specifics you feel she needs to know about your child’s depression, and what she initially thinks she would do to specifically help your child.
3) A great child therapist believes parents should be active participants in the process.
Far too many child therapists believe a check-in with parents every 3-4 sessions is appropriate. A child’s relationship with a parent comes first. Especially for children under 12, parent participation (whether in treatment with your child or with check-ins every session) is essential to creating that change you want to see in your child.
Your input is vital because you live at home with your child and you are the most important element that supports change.
What you can do: At the initial consultation call, ask about the child therapist’s policy on parent involvement. What is her philosophy for how she wants you to be involved? Are you allowed to sit in a session? How often are check-ins?
4) A great child therapist understands your child’s needs.
Negative behaviors are based off of need. A defiant child needs to feel heard while excessive crying is a sign for needing comfort. A therapist with a background in child development can be a powerful resource. If your child’s therapist understand your child’s behavior and can support you in knowing the meaning behind the behavior, you and your child can learn how to create the change that you’re both looking for.
What you can do: Asking “why?” can be very enlightening. An inquisitive parent is an engaged parent, and any great child therapist will be happy to educate you and your child about whatever it is you’re wondering about.
5) A great child therapist makes therapy an enjoyable experience.
Once therapy has started your child ideally should be communicating positive statements about the experience. Look at your child’s behavior between sessions: does she act like she wants to go back? Is she showing reluctance to return? It’s a good idea to find out from your child why she feels the way she feels. Sometimes children, especially teens, just don’t want to be in therapy. But it’s good to assess if this is a stall tactic or maybe it just isn’t a good fit.
What you can do: Talk to your child and her therapist about how things are going. Note if there is any resistance. It could be your child is feeling uncomfortable for some reason. Communicating that to your child’s therapist is essential because it is something she may be able to help with so your child becomes more comfortable. Or else, she may be able to connect your child with another therapist that would be a better fit.
The bottom line: The qualities listed above are meant to be a guide to help you navigate the process of choosing the right therapist for you and your child. Ultimately, trust your gut (and your child’s) about whether or not the therapist you select is a good fit. Once you’ve chosen a child therapist, feeling comfortable with her is the best indicator it’s a good fit.
So please let me know: what criteria do you use when looking for a great child therapist for your child?
Jenmarie Eadie is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is passionate about helping children to become less stressed by giving them and their parents tools, support and encouragement. She received her Master’s in Social Work from Arizona State with a dual concentration in Children, Youth, and Families; and Behavioral Health.