If finding the right therapist for yourself is tricky, finding the right therapist for your kid is even harder. Here are some things we routinely recommend parents look for in a therapist:
Someone who knows their stuff. Your kid’s therapist should be well-versed in the evidence base for child psychotherapies and the science behind psychological struggles.
Someone who has a relaxed attitude and will be good at interacting with your child. It has to be even harder for kids to go to therapy than adults for a number of reasons. First, kids rarely choose on their own to go to therapy and often don’t want to be there. Second, unlike adults, kids usually don’t have any idea of what to expect in a therapist’s office. And so therapists working with kids have to be the kind of people your child would want to spend time with -- someone who is not stilted or formal, and someone who’s not afraid to play and act silly, and someone who can imbue the play with the nuts and bolts of therapeutic action.
Someone who wants to get to know your unique child. It’s worth it to take the time to find a clinician who is going to really get to know your child and your family. This therapist will take into account your wishes as parents, and also will learn about your child’s unique personality, using all of this information to arrive at a plan of action for how best to help your kid.
Someone who communicates (just enough) with you. When working with a minor (a child under the age of 18), technically, the legal rights of confidentiality rest with the parents or legal guardians of the child. This means that if you wanted to, you could know almost everything about your child’s therapy. However, that’s almost never in your child’s best interest. In fact, more often than not, one of the most valuable things a therapist can contribute to your child’s life is that fact that he/she is an outsider. Which means that your child doesn’t have to worry about hurting or offending him/her, and doesn’t have to think about his/her expectations for him/her. When the relationship works well, the therapist can act as the right hand of the parents, helping to support the parents’ wishes with the child -- and also the right hand of the child, helping the child to develop his/her voice and to share his/her thoughts and feelings with the parents. There’s a special thing that can happen in therapy with a child where the child comes to feel that even though therapy may not have been his choice, the therapist can become a special person for him, someone who uniquely understands him and can help him achieve his goals (some of which may have to do with other family members). In order for this magic to happen, the therapist has to have some liberty in terms of what he/she shares with the parents. If the parents know everything, then the bond between the child and the therapist is no longer unique or separate, and the magic of this relationship may dissolve. In light of this, usually we recommend that therapists and parents have an agreement in which the therapists share their concerns with parents (when they arise), but do not share the day-to-day aspects of the therapist-child interactions. Our clinicians have an open door policy, however, in which parents are encouraged to reach out to them at any time with questions, concerns, or to relay important information to therapists.
Hesitant about starting your journey? We get it. Reach out today and let's talk it through.