How to Find a Therapist for My Child
Not all therapists are created equal. Sadly, there are a lot of unqualified therapists when it comes to disorders with disruptive behaviors. Here are three questions your child’s therapist should be able to answer.
What specifically will you be working on with my child? What type of therapy is the therapist going to do? Is it cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)? Is it psychoanalytic therapy? Is it “tell-me-how-your-day-was therapy” (which is certainly not therapy)? What is the therapist going to do and what is he/she going to talk about with your child? The answer to this question should be direct. If the therapist responds with a lot of jargon (psychobabble) that isn’t clear, this might be a red flag. Like any other professional, a strong therapist will not shy away from this question.
How long will it take? The answer to this question doesn’t have to be an exact date, but the therapist should be able to tell you, based on their work with previous clients, how long it will take to meet treatment expectations. For example, a CBT therapist might say something like 12-20 sessions and a child attachment therapist might say 18-24 months. For this question, it isn’t about the actual length, but does the therapist have a range and an idea of what this process is going to look like. So here is how this conversation might go:
Parent: “Have you ever worked with kids like this?”
Therapist: “Yes, all the time.”
Parent: “Have you ever been successful with them?”
Therapist: “Yes, of course.”
Parent: “Well, how long did that take?”
Based on their experience with previous clients, they should be able to give you a range. If they say it’s going to take six months and it actually takes eight months, they are doing well. If they say it will take six months and eighteen months from now you are still working on the same issues… well, that is a problem. Never, ever sign up for open ended therapy (We will talk more about this in a future blog post.).
How will we know it is working? Do we really have to go through the entire six months before we know that it is working? What signs and symptoms can we expect to see when things are getting better? For example, if the child has anxiety about social situations is he/she going to be able to ask for his/her own play dates? Is he/she going to be able to sign up for group or club? Will he/she be able to attend social activities independently? As your child moves through therapy ask yourself, “Are we actually seeing signs that thing are getting better?” Don’t wait until the end of the time frame to realize that things aren’t improving.
- The therapist being “nice” or your child “liking” the therapist is not a good enough reason to stay with a therapist if he/she isn’t providing results.
- Your child is not going to know if therapy is working or not. Your assessment of the therapy should be based on a reduction of problematic symptoms, an improvement in behavior, a reduction in thinking errors, or an increase in skill mastery (all of which you, as the parent, can assess).
- Your child does not just need someone to talk to. Hopefully, that is what they have friends for, but if not, then that would make for a great therapy goal. Therapy is more than just talking with your child.
- You are paying for a specific service and should expect to receive results. Would you stay with your mechanic if he/she kept telling you what was wrong with your car, but he/she was never able to fix it? Of course not. You would expect results and you can and should expect the same from your child’s therapist. Like a mechanic, at some point you should expect that your child will be “back up and running” on their own.
There is an old proverb: “No matter how far you’ve traveled down the wrong road, turn back.” If this therapist isn’t helping you, he/she isn’t going to help you a year from now or ten years from now. Don’t waste your most valuable resource… time. These problems typically get bigger as your child grows. Get a new therapist.