29 Jul What makes someone a child therapist, and what is child therapy anyway?
If you are like many people, there is a good chance that you have little idea of exactly what makes someone a child therapist or what happens in child therapy. Maybe you found yourself thinking your child needs to see a therapist, so you search for a child psychologist or child therapist. But then what? How do you know if the provider is good with children? And what will they be doing?
First, there is no license (at least in the state of Florida) for a child therapist or child psychologist. Someone who promotes him or herself as a licensed child therapist or psychologist will have received a state license and masters or doctoral level general psychology training. During general training there are varying levels of emphasis on child psychology in every program that exists. Some programs have less emphasis and some programs have more. It is not the training a provider received in school that specializes them as a child therapist, it is the work they do after training, often through independent continuing education and most importantly through lots of work with children as therapy patients. Ask about the therapist’s experience with children.
Next, what is child therapy anyway? Mostly simply, it is therapy with children. Sometimes it involves the adults in a child’s life and sometimes it does not. In the beginning stages of work with the child and family, the therapist will determine whether the therapy will be more one-on-one with the child and therapist or whether it will involve the parent(s) on a more significant level. One-on-one therapy with a young child often involves art or other creative expressions which the therapist uses to understand the child’s feelings and initiate developmentally appropriate conversations with the child about their feelings. The information obtained is then used by the therapist to provide and to teach the parents to provide necessary supports, boundaries or structure that the child needs. Sometimes the child’s needs are quickly understood and time in therapy is short. Other times, the child’s trust level with adults is low or there is missing information that takes time to come to light. If these things happen, the process can take longer.
Therapy with adolescents is often about helping them balance their struggle between autonomy and dependence. Therapy provides them a private place to freely express their feelings and practice emotional autonomy while at the same time providing them encouragement to find ways express their independence and buck their parents’ restrictions without getting in trouble or hurting themselves.
Generally, there will always be some level of parental involvement in child therapy since parents ultimately provide for the needs of their children. There is even type of therapy that is not done without the presence of the parents, since parent/child attachment is the focus of that therapy. That being said, it is important to remember that even for children, the importance of privacy cannot be overstated. At least a moderate level of confidentiality will exist for the child’s sake.