Preparing for a First Session of Child Therapy [Guest Post]

Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, is the Executive Director of GoodTherapy.org a Therapist Directory and is a strong advocate of collaborative and non-pathologizing therapy.

Children are often faced with challenges that parents may not fully understand or appreciate, despite the idea that since they were once children themselves, they know all about the childhood experience. From difficulties with learning at school to social conflicts and issues within the home, children can come into contact with negative experiences, and in some cases, the effects may be debilitating. Deciding to introduce a youth to child therapy can be an excellent way to gain a greater understanding of the child’s development, and to help them work through any immediate issues while instilling a greater ability to tackle concerns that arise in the future. Beginning a course of child therapy can be difficult, however, both for families and for the children themselves. Talking to a child about therapy before the first session can go a long way towards helping them to feel more comfortable and prepared.

Introducing the idea of child therapy on the spot, in much the same way as announcing a surprise visit to the dentist, may not always be the best of options. Children may feel deceived or hurt, and may develop trust issues. Practicing honesty about therapy with children can help make the subject, as well as the sessions, more agreeable. In most cases, it can be beneficial to discuss child therapy at some point before arriving at a therapist’s office. While there is likely a precise reason why the parents or guardians have decided to try a course of child therapy, discussing the reason in-depth with the child before therapy begins is not usually necessary. Rather, the notion that a therapist is a kind of doctor who doesn’t use shots or stethoscopes but tries to help people feel better by sharing ideas and feelings and playing can be comforting for a young client.

Those who anticipate meeting with the therapist themselves can relate that they’ll be seeing the special doctor as well, which may soothe some children’s concerns about being isolated or singled out. Noting that children can rely on total confidentiality, ensuring that nobody will know about any feelings that come up or things that are discussed (with the exception of those that may reasonably lead to harm), may be important for children worried about their friends teasing them or about their parents becoming angry. Talking about these positive aspects of therapy prior to the first session can ease concerns and promote a cooperative attitude towards the concept.

As many children are under a great deal of pressure to perform well at school, work through the labyrinth of early social skills, and be a part of a functional and happy family; presenting child therapy as a reprimand or answer to something that is wrong may have a negative effect on the first session. Preparing instead with a basic explanation about therapy and therapists themselves while highlighting some of its advantages is often a good way to ensure that a first session is a positive experience for all involved.

Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, is the Executive Director of GoodTherapy.org a Therapist Directory and is a strong advocate of collaborative and non-pathologizing therapy.

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