Finding the right resources for your child can be a challenge; especially if your child has complex medical or mental health needs. Here are some tips on finding the right therapist for your child, as well as how to navigate the confusing alphabet soup of medical acronyms.
The first step to identifying an appropriate therapist for your child is to determine what challenges your child is facing and hoping to overcome. Is he/she struggling to make friends? Is your child feeling anxious about school-related pressures? Perhaps your child has low self-esteem or may be experiencing symptoms of depression.
Thinking about your child’s challenges will help you figure out if a specialist is needed or if a social skills group might be appropriate.
What Type of Therapist Should My Child See?
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe medication. After talking with you and your child they may make a recommendation for medications that will help your child feel better and cope with stress. They usually work closely with a social worker or mental health therapist.
Psychologists usually have a doctorate degree and specialize in evaluating child problems and behaviors. They are trained to evaluate and treat a broad range of specific mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression, and clinical issues. They may use several different forms of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Once they have completed the evaluation they will meet with you and your child and discuss what they learned and make recommendations.
Social Workers/Therapists/Counselors hold at least a master’s degree in the area of mental health, and can guide a patient through treating their mental health symptoms as well as addressing problems like whether to stay in a relationship in which they are unhappy, or at a job where they aren’t happy. They are trained to treat specific mental health issues such as autism spectrum disorder, anxiety and depression. They can provide several different forms of therapy that target your child’s problem area.
Social Skills Groups are typically comprised of 6-10 children grouped by an age range and who are working toward a common goal, such as improving peer social relations skills. These may be specialized for children with autism spectrum disorder and related disorders, or be more general in nature. Social Skills Groups are typically facilitated by a mental health therapist.
How Do I Choose the Right Therapist?
Ideally you will want to find a therapist in a location convenient for you. If the practice has a website, check to see what insurances they accept, if they are in or out of your network, and what the co-pay might be.
Other questions to ask:
- How long does it take to get an appointment?
- Is there somewhere I can wait comfortably for my child?
- How do you see me being involved in my child’s treatment?
Remember, you don’t want to pick a therapist you’d want to be friends with your child. That isn’t his or her role. But it is important that you feel you can be open and honest with the therapist and that your child is comfortable with them.
What Should My Child Expect During Therapy?
What happens in sessions can depend on the type of treatment – and many therapists combine elements of different approaches. One common type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is the most research-backed treatment for anxiety disorders and depression.
It’s based partly on the idea that distorted thinking is a main cause of mental distress, and in CBT the therapist would help your child identify unhelpful thoughts, challenge them and replace them with more realistic ones.
There’s also dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), an in-depth treatment combining cognitive therapy, mindfulness/relaxation and emotional processing. These are just a few of the therapeutic approaches in the field.
Social Skills Groups, just as the name indicates, are small groups of children, usually no more than 8-10, who share a similar diagnosis and are working toward similar goals. Through peer interactions facilitated by a mental health professional, the group benefits from other perspectives of the group participants.
At the Watson Institute, our clinical team includes professionals at the levels detailed here, all of whom are specially trained in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of mental and behavioral health concerns using a variety of treatment options. We encourage you to seek out appropriate resources for your child using these helpful tips!
About Dr. Mary Beth Boylan:
Dr. Mary Beth Boylan is the Program Director of Friendship Academy and Director of Psychological Services at the Watson Institute.