Child therapy (also called child counseling) is similar to therapy and counseling for adults: it offers a safe space and an empathetic ear while providing tools to bring about change in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Just like adult clients, child clients receive emotional and goal support in their sessions. They can focus on resolving conflict, understanding their own thoughts and feelings, and on thinking of new solutions to their daily problems.
The only big difference between adult therapy and child therapy is the emphasis on making sure children understand what is happening, and how they are not alone.
Child therapy can be practiced with one child, a child, and a parent or parents, or even with more than one family. It is often administered by a counselor or therapist who specializes in working with children, and who can offer the parents and/or guardians insights that may not be immediately apparent.
The therapist and client(s) can cover a wide variety of issues that include:
Good therapy will be present and forward-oriented (meaning there will be little looking back or digging up the past) and will likely utilize non-verbal modalities like play, games, art, etc.
In addition, the therapy sessions may focus on five important goals on top of any situation-specific goals:
To summarize, child therapy is quite similar to therapy for adults in terms of the purpose, goals, and problems it can address, but it differs with the focus of explaining these topics to young children.
Techniques and exercises offer ways that are appropriate, for the child’s age, to understand themselves in the world.
See our article on CBT Therapy for more information.
If a parent or guardian is not sure whether the child needs counseling or not, the list of symptoms below can be a good indicator. If the child is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, coupled with the parent’s concern, it’s a good idea to take him or her in for an evaluation.
The following are symptoms that may indicate a problem that therapy can correct or help with:
In addition to these issues, the child may be dealing with:
If parents decide to bring their child to therapy, they need to stay engaged throughout the therapy process.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry suggests asking the therapist or counselor the following questions:
Similarly, there are some suggestions on how to talk to a child about going to counseling. It can feel uncomfortable to both the parent(s) and the child to talk about mental health treatment, but following these tips can help make it approachable:
There are many effective forms of child therapy with evidence to back them up, including Applied Behavior Analyst, Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavior, Cognitive Therapy,Family Therapy, Interpersonal Therapy, and Organization Training (Society of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 2017).
Younger children may also benefit from Therapy, and older adolescents may benefit from
Dialectal Behavioral Therapy, Group Therapy, or Psychodynamic Therapy (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2017).
These therapies may be administered on their own, in combination with other therapies, or as a hodge-podge of techniques and exercises from several different types of therapies. In addition, it may or may not be accompanied by medication, depending on the situation.
One of these therapies may work for a child far better than the others, and the type chosen will depend on the issue(s) the child and family are dealing with. Like with any form of therapy, it is most effective when everyone involved is on board, supportive, and contributing to its success.