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How Do I Choose a Therapist for My Child?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and thankfully, many people have become much more educated about Mental Health issues. There is less overall secrecy and judgment about seeking therapy as a resource. Therapy has become mainstream on social media, and parents can find millions of articles online with information on how to support the mental health of our children.


More than ever, I’m hearing from parents that their child asked for therapy (some as young as 9 years old!) and it’s amazing to see parents who are supportive of this request. Pediatricians, teachers and school counselors are all much more likely to suggest therapy when kids are struggling in or out of school.


But why can’t they just talk to me…? Remember when you were a kid? I’m sure there were PLENTY of things that you didn’t want to discuss with your parents. Kids are smart – they know that parents will try to say all the “right things” to placate their children. Despite our best intentions, many kids can benefit from a space that they know will be non-judgmental and parent-free when discussing difficult topics. There are also insights that one can gain from having an outsiders’ perspective. Having a skilled therapist can help them gain insights and learn tools to cope effectively.

So, if you decide to take your child to therapy, then how does one choose a therapist for their child?


Here are some things to consider and questions to ask when choosing a therapist for your child:


Where do I start looking? Pediatricians’ offices often keep a list of therapists in the area, as do school counselors. If you need to stay in-network with your insurance, insurance companies often have a service that will help you locate therapists with openings. You can also check with friends, family, and online forums for recommendations. There are a handful of websites that have a directory of therapist listings such as PsychologyToday.com, Zencare.com, Goodtherapist.com or Therapist.com (be aware that therapists listed on these sites must pay for a listing).


When are they available? It can be hard to find a therapist with after school/evening availability. As much as there are a LOT of therapists in the DMV, not a lot of them work with children. Those who do have a limited number of after school slots. Therapists want to have their evenings and weekends too! If you are desperate to get your child to see a therapist, consider occasionally pulling them from school early or pulling them from one of their extra-curricular activities.


How do they handle working with parents? The way that therapists work with parents can be VERY different depending on the clinician. As a therapist, when working with children, we are bound to the same Confidentiality standards as we are to our adult clients. We do not inform anyone of the details of therapy unless the client is in danger or someone else is in danger. The Ethics of working with children can be difficult to manage as most parents want to know what happens during a therapy session and what to do to help support their children.


You have to gauge your comfort level and how involved you would like to be in the process.


When interviewing therapists, you may want to ask: What is the role of parents in the therapy process if they work with you? Are parents given some feedback? Does the therapist offer parent check-in sessions? Do they give you guidance on what to work on between sessions so you can help your child practice strategies?


Is your child comfortable working with the therapist? This can be hard to tell if your child is comfortable because most children will walk out of a therapy session and either say nothing or say it was “fine.” Initially, it can be good to have sessions with at least two different therapists to see who is the “best fit” for your child and your family. Propose to your child that you are meeting with two different therapists and that they will have a say in which one they see. Each therapist has a different style and personality. Most kids are used to simply being stuck with whichever adult is in front of them. Let them know that they have a choice in the process, so they feel empowered.


I encourage you to be up front with the therapists you speak with if you are interviewing multiple therapists. This is something we are quite familiar with so any skilled therapist should be able to navigate this. Ideally, a therapist will also let you know if they feel that they are not the right fit for your child after the first session.


I know it can be hard for parents to trust their child with a therapist and we are so grateful each time you do. Ultimately, it’s amazing that you are giving your child a safe space to process their concerns, develop skills to manage their emotions, and be given tools to help them move through life more smoothly. Parenting win!


“Feeling heard and understood allows children to release their feelings, let go and move on.” -Janet Lansbury


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