Preparing Children for Therapy
Choosing to support your child by having them see a psychologist is another way to express your love for them and that you want them to be happy and fulfilled. It’s important to prepare them for the appointment rather than just showing up at the office. Choose a quiet time to explain that you have made an appointment with a psychologist or therapist for them because you care about them and love them and answer any questions they may have or ease any anxiety they may feel.
Explain what therapists do
Most young children may not know what a psychologist is or what they do so you can start by explaining that they are much like a doctor that we see when we’re not feeling our best – for example, maybe we feel sad, scared, angry, frustrated, or bad about ourselves or just need support or someone to talk to. Let them know that many children and people of all ages have trouble handling strong emotions because they need help understanding why they feel this way. Explain how much better they may feel by talking to someone who can help them to deal with intense and overwhelming feelings and to feel their best.
It’s important to be honest about why you are taking your child to a therapist and about the reasons why they need to make adjustments to certain behaviors that are causing anger or unhappiness.
Children should also be told they are not being singled out or blamed for creating problems, but that therapy is meant to benefit everyone in the family. Let them know that you’re all going to learn together about what’s making your child feel or behave they way they do and that together you can all make the situation better – and that therapy is not punishment for misbehaviour.
Tell them what to expect in the session
Telling them exactly what will happen once they arrive at the therapist’s office relieves the uneasiness a child undoubtedly feels before talking to a therapist.
- Arrive at the office and check-in with the reception desk (just like at the doctor or dentist).
- Wait for the therapist to come to the waiting room to call their name.
- Walk together to the therapy office.
- Spend about an hour with the therapist – playing, talking, or maybe even making art! (Note: this may include another 30 minutes if the therapist wants to talk with you)
- The therapist will walk them back to the waiting room where you’ll be waiting for them.
- The therapist may want to talk with you before you leave.
- You may book another appointment before you leave or call at another time if needed.
If you know your child will be receiving play therapy, you may tell your young child that they “will be spending time with (the therapists name) in a special playroom every week where there are toys to play with”. If your child wants to know why the are going to the playroom, you may say something like, “when things are hard for you at home (or at school), sometimes it helps to have a special place to play”. It is important for the child to feel safe in play therapy.
Older children can be told that they will spend time with (the therapist’s name) in the therapist’s office where they can talk about their feelings or any stressors they are dealing with. Explain that the therapist won’t force your child to talk about anything that they don’t want to talk about but that they have experience working with other kids who may have faced the same thing that your child’s going through and that they are there to listen to them completely without judgement.
The therapist will maintain confidentiality, which means that what children specifically say and do in play therapy will be kept private (except in some situations including allegations of abuse or harm to self and others). Confidentiality allows children to feel secure enough to fully express themselves without being inhibited by concerns over their parents’ reactions or feelings. Even if the therapist talks with just the parents following a child’s session, the therapist will involve the parents by sharing general themes, helpful responses, and progress in therapy with the parent – not specifics.
It’s a family effort
The therapist may meet with the parents on a regular basis and may also facilitate family therapy in which all or some family members participate to work toward therapeutic success for the child. This may involve some strategies for the entire family to follow to support your child and to benefit every family member.
What if my child refuses to go?
Most kids – especially older kids – initially resist the idea of being made to participate in children’s therapy. It’s important to listen to their reasons why they don’t want to go. Ask them to try it – one session at a time and then you can reassess regularly to make sure they feel comfortable with the therapist and any treatment methods they’re using. Remind them of the benefits of therapy (feeling happier, less angry, less stressed, doing better in school, etc.).
Afterwards, you might think about taking your child to the park or some other activity they enjoy to promote an association of reward with therapy time.
Insight has several child therapists who specialize in treating children form ages 3 to 17 years. Please visit our therapists page to find one who may be right for your family.