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Children and Therapy: Answers to Common Questions

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

You might be at a point where you feel that your child might benefit from some outside help.  This article will attempt to help you weed through some important questions (and answers) to guide you in your decision-making process regarding counseling for your child.

Does my child need therapy?

This is where most people get hung-up.  We all want to know if what our child is displaying is “normal.”  We may observe other children or ask our friends for feedback.  Still, the answers may not be clear and we are reluctant to make that leap.  There are many factors that may prevent us from seeking therapy for our child such as:  previous negative experiences with therapy, feelings of failure as a parent, the stigma of therapy, wondering if it is really “that bad,” or simply not knowing where to find help.  Prayerfully consider these possible underlying barriers to treatment.  Exploring the root of the issue can help you see clearer to make the best decision for your family.

While there are no hard-and-fast criteria for seeking therapy, the following guidelines may help.  Consider seeking therapy for your child if he:

  • Shows an abrupt change in mood or behavior.
  • Has experienced a traumatic life event.
  • Has been symptomatic for 6 months or more.
  • Is demonstrating behaviors that severely impact your family’s day-to-day functioning in a negative way.

Your child may be experiencing some or all of these criteria.  You and your spouse are in the best position to determine if the severity of his reaction or behaviors warrants treatment.

Who will be the “patient”?

Many parents seek out counseling because they want the therapist to “fix” the child in the family who is most symptomatic. They have the idea that they will drop their child off at the therapist’s office and pick him up 50 minutes later, somewhat improved.  However, children do not live in a vacuum.  They are part of a family system.  Sometimes the child displaying the most symptoms is simply the manifestation of a broken family system.  This child becomes the identified patient when in fact the root problem is familial.  Therapists often find that there are underlying issues related to communication, methods of discipline or subconscious hostility.  Entering into therapy with your child rather than for him will create a supportive atmosphere that will allow the healing to begin regardless of origin of the hurt.

Will the therapist call child protective services?

Even parents who have nothing to fear, fear this.  Let me assure you that therapists are not looking to make reports to CPS.  That being said, they are mandated by law to report any verified or suspected abuse or neglect of a child.  To learn more about your specific state’s statutes as they pertain to the topic of child abuse and neglect, click here.

Are there any implications for his future?

This requires careful consideration.  Many insurance plans offer a mental health benefit.  You may be inclined to use it for your child’s treatment.  Keep in mind that in order for the insurance company to grant sessions for your child, the therapist will have to come up with a diagnosis.  This becomes part of your child’s permanent medical record.  You may feel that this is not a significant issue for you.  If it is, you may want to consider paying out of pocket for your mental health treatment.  If you do so, your therapist is under no obligation to submit any information to your insurance company at all.  Many therapists are willing to offer a sliding scale for clients who pay fee-for-service as it cuts down on a mountain of paperwork and out-of-session responsibilities (such as pre-authorization phone calls and requests for more sessions) required by insurance companies.

How do I pick a therapist?

This can be a difficult hurdle to overcome.  Once you have decided that your child (or family) would benefit from therapy, you need to begin the task of selecting a therapist that will mesh well with your family.  Finding a Christian therapist can be even more of a challenge.  Word of mouth is likely your best resource as you can hear specific feedback on individual therapists.  If you intend to use your insurance, you can request that they send you a list of paneled providers in your area.  Alternatively, you can conduct an internet search to find a therapist near you. Psychology Today is a website that offers a search tool that will help you find a therapist in your area.  Each therapist provides a brief synopsis of his or her work, helping you get a feel for her approach to counseling.

Furthermore, you need to consider your initial meeting with a new therapist as a “test drive.” You would never consider buying a car without testing it out first – therapy should not be any different.  Much of the success of treatment lies in the “goodness of fit” between the therapist and client.  If you can find someone with whom you feel comfortable and who seems competent to you, you will be much more likely to stick with treatment until its completion and therefore have a much more successful outcome.

About the author

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God’s word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.

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