These are simple questions that unfortunately do not have simple answers. Here we will address both with the goal of providing parents with a road map to help them better navigate these issues. First, we will identify some different reasons why you may choose to seek professional help for your child. Then we will explore the various treatment modalities available. While these are not exhaustive lists, they will provide parents with the information needed to get started.
Reasons to Seek Treatment
1. A sudden and marked change in mood, affect or behavior. If your child suddenly becomes sullen and withdrawn and is unwilling to talk with you about what he or she is experiencing, therapy is a good option. Children experiencing a sudden change in school performance, dress, friends, and interests are other warning signs. A trained therapist will be able to conduct an evaluation and recommend a course of treatment depending upon the issues uncovered.
2. A life changing event. Divorce, death, trauma, abuse and loss are all good reasons to seek treatment for your child. Even if your child is not exhibiting any symptoms, therapy can provide a safe haven where he or she can express and explore the thoughts and feelings the event evoked.
3. A psychological or behavioral symptom that has persisted for 6 months or more. Anxiety or depression that impairs a child’s normal functioning and prevents him or her from performing daily responsibilities or duties such as school or work may warrant treatment. You may decide to seek treatment sooner than 6 months if the symptoms are severe.
4. A pervasive negative impact on the family unit. If your child’s symptoms or behaviors are negatively impacting the lives of those around them and you feel ill-equipped to address them, treatment may be in order.
Once you have deemed that some form of treatment is necessary, you may want to schedule a medical exam with a primary care physician or a naturopathic doctor. It is no secret that the link between psychology and biology is a strong one. Some problems could be the result of an underlying medical condition. Take your child for a medical exam, explain to your doctor what symptoms you see (nothing is too insignificant) to rule out any underlying causes. In fact, many therapists will ask that you take this step prior to embarking on mental health treatment so it is a good idea to start here.
Types of Treatment Available
1. Individual therapy. Children who have experienced a trauma or other life changing event (divorce, death, etc) benefit greatly from individual treatment. The protection of a confidential therapeutic environment may be just what they need to open up and address their thoughts and feelings. A good rapport or relationship with the therapist is essential and parents should place a high value on the goodness of fit between their child and counselor. Licensed therapists specializing in the treatment of children are the best option. For very young children, trained play therapists are a wonderful resource.
2. Family therapy. If your child’s behavior or emotional issue is impacting those around him, family therapy may be the best option. While parents typically seek individual counseling for their child because he or she is the one manifesting the problems, often the issues are not so clear cut. Family therapists are trained in noticing and addressing underlying family dynamics and patterns that may contribute to the child’s problems. Helping family members communicate in a safe environment may provide the impetus needed for change.
3. Group therapy. Older children and teens struggling with a specific issue may benefit from group therapy. Issues that lend themselves well to group treatment are: substance abuse, anger management, social skills training, later stage abuse recovery and some anxiety disorders.
4. Parenting consultants. Parents struggling with non-compliance, disrespect and general misbehavior may find the services of a parenting consultant useful. They can provide support and guidance to parents who are overwhelmed with their child’s behaviors and moods. Their approach is supportive, directive and concrete in nature and is often available on-line or over the phone. Seek those who are trained professionals with valid credentials.
Seeking help for your child does not need to be a daunting task. Knowing the issues at hand and the treatment options available will help you make an informed decision.
[photo credit: anitapeppers from morguefile.com]