Have you ever wondered if your child may benefit from seeing a therapist? Or, has a teacher or family member ever suggested that a therapist could be helpful in supporting your child in his or her development?
Children and families benefit from therapy for many different reasons. Your preschooler may be struggling to transition to school. Or your kindergartener may be struggling to make and keep friends. Perhaps your 2nd grader is having trouble paying attention and focusing in class. Or maybe your middle schooler is having strong feelings of sadness or worry.
For many parents, the initial process of selecting a therapist may itself feel daunting. Whether you’ve received names of recommended therapists from a friend, or you’re searching through lists of providers from your insurance, you may find yourself scanning through photos and bios still perplexed or overwhelmed.
But how might you know which person will be a good fit for you and your child? It can be difficult to know how to be an informed consumer when it comes to mental health. Many therapists offer short phone consultations prior to scheduling an appointment in order to briefly connect. Below are five questions you may consider to help you evaluate a potential fit for your family.
- Who are the people in your child’s life—teachers, mentors, coaches, family members—that he is closest to or she is most comfortable around?
What adjectives would you use to describe them? Are they patient, warm, nurturing, structured, active, adventurous, predictable, or playful? These are good initial clues for characteristics to also look for in a therapist.
- How does the therapist initially evaluate presenting symptoms?
Therapists gather information using a variety of methods. This may range from parent interviews to school observations or from administering questionnaires to standardized assessment measures. Depending on the age of your child, a therapist may use fun art and play activities during initial sessions to observe interactions, skills, and themes as they relate to the presenting concerns. It may be important to you to understand the methods that a potential therapist uses to gather and evaluate information that guides their recommendations.
- What models of therapy does she provide?
Models of therapy can range from conducting individual sessions with your child, dyadic sessions with a parent and child, family sessions, or even groups. If individual or group sessions are recommended, ask how the therapist will keep you informed and involved. How might the therapist offer confidentiality to your teen to encourage communication while also keeping you connected?
- What are the theoretical orientations that the therapist is trained in and practices?
Theoretical orientations are often embedded within therapist bios, but you might also ask a potential therapist about their orientation. Some examples include cognitive-behavioral, family systems, psychodynamic, expressive arts, play-based, or humanistic models. These terms will be clues to a therapist’s theory of change and may translate to the style of interactions you and your child will experience in session. You might want to research these terms online to learn more about how they may fit with your family.
- How does the therapist decide and recommend a particular therapy for your child or family?
If a therapist recommends a particular model for your child, feel free to ask why. You may also ask about the range of options available. While there are a variety of therapies that support people in helpful ways, some parents seek particular treatments termed “evidence-based” therapies. These treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety, have been well-researched and found effective for successfully treating specific problems. If obtaining evidence-based treatment is important to you, you might ask a potential therapist about the possibilities available.
While we therapists have our areas of professional knowledge, these suggested questions are intended to assist you with being an informed treatment collaborator, as you are the expert in your child and family. Good luck with your search and don’t hesitate to contact us here at Parents Place with any questions.
Ellie Pelc, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist at Parents Place in San Francisco.