What is psychotherapy for children and adolescents?
It is common for children and adolescents to experience occasional problems as they grow and mature. At home and in their neighborhoods, they encounter problems with parents and peers as they attempt to establish a personal identity for themselves and practice relating to others. At school, they experience conflict with teachers as academic and behavioral demands increase. As a child or adolescent is faced with new situations, demands and expectations, it is very common for them to experience shifts in their mood characterized by feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear, and anger. These reactions tend to be short-lived, and usually do not significantly interfere with the child or adolescent’s life. However, occasionally a child or adolescent’s response to life’s pressures may become severe, and the parents’ attempts to help their child may be unsuccessful. At times such as these, professional assistance may be warranted.
Psychotherapy for children and adolescents refer to a variety of techniques and methods used to those who are experiencing difficulties with managing their thoughts, emotions, or behavior. Although there are different types of psychotherapy, each rely on communication as the basic tool for bringing about change in a person’s feelings and behaviors. In children and adolescents, playing, drawing, building, and pretending, as well as talking, are important ways of sharing feelings and resolving problems. Children who receive psychotherapy range from 5 to 12 years old, while adolescents may range from 13 to 17 years old
As part of the initial assessment for a child or adolescent, a qualified mental health professional at The Psychology Practice of Michael G. Selders, Ph.D., PLLC will meet with the child and his or her parent or caregiver to determine the need for psychotherapy. This decision will be based on the severity of child’s current problems and unique treatment needs, history and background, level of cognitive development, and the family’s ability to cooperate with treatment. Psychotherapy is often used in combination with other treatments (medication, behavior management, or work with the school). The relationship that develops between the therapist and the patient is very important. The child or adolescent must feel comfortable, safe and understood. This type of trusting environment makes it much easier for the child to express his/her thoughts and feelings and to use the therapy in a helpful way.
Psychotherapy helps children and adolescents in a variety of ways. They receive emotional support, resolve conflicts with people, understand feelings and problems, and try out new solutions to old problems. Goals for therapy may be specific (change in behavior, improved relations with friends or family), or more general (less anxiety, better self-esteem). The length of psychotherapy depends on the complexity and severity of problems.
Our clinicians are trained to “understand” the language of play and convey to a child their understanding, acceptance, and response to his or her concerns. Our clinicians utilize a variety of specially selected toys and games that facilitate a therapeutic process between a child and themselves.
How does Play Therapy help children?
Play therapy often has a profound healing effect on a child’s life. The ability to communicate their deepest fears, wishes, and concerns and the feeling of being understood and received is extremely meaningful on its own. Additionally, our therapists work with each individual child and their parent to structure the therapy so a child heals their wounds and gain new ways of feeling, thinking and relating. Play therapy is child-centered, meaning its focus is on the child and their inner worlds. However, our therapists will always work closely and collaboratively with a child’s parent to better understand the child in the context of their home, family and community, and to make sure that the gains from therapy carry out into the child’s life outside of therapy.
How do I know if my child may benefit from therapy, and what issues does child therapy address?
Child therapy has been shown to be greatly effective in a wide variety of situations. Deciding whether or not therapy is for your child and searching for a therapist can be an overwhelming process. Some of the signs your child may benefit from therapy are:
- Difficulties at school, either with teachers, peers or academics.
- Sudden changes in mood or behavior.
- Difficulties with sleeping, eating or going to the bathroom.
- Irritability, temper tantrums, or excessive anger or aggression.
- Repetitive sad or scary dreams, nightmares, or fantasies.
- Preoccupation with ideas, thoughts or feelings that seem inappropriate to their age.
Common issues addressed in child therapy include:
- Separation/Divorce and other family changes.
- Trauma that the child experienced or witnessed.
- Grief and loss of loved ones.
- Recovery from child abuse (physical, sexual or psychological).
- School or academic problems.
- Sleeping or eating problems.
- Difficulties in relating to other children or adults.
- Aggression, irritability, anger.
- Behavior problems.
- Depression, anxiety and other emotional distress.
What is Adolescent Therapy?
Adolescence presents itself with incredible challenges. Teenagers often feel caught between childhood and adulthood, and are struggling to find their own identity, while undergoing rapid physical, emotional and intellectual growth and change. Therapy with adolescents often integrates both play therapy and talk therapy, and is tailored around each adolescent’s particular needs and capacity. Though adolescents can use words to convey themselves a lot better than younger children, there are still parts of their experience that are hard to access through words and ideas because they are still actively developing and maturing cognitively.
There is often a gap between a teenager’s emotional and intellectual development and capacity. We offer Sand Tray Therapy for adolescents (as well as for children and adults) to specifically address this gap. Through the use of miniatures, one can create stories or scenes that reflect inner experiences and dilemmas.
Other ways to work with adolescents (and younger children) include:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is a modality of therapy focused on thoughts and behaviors. Through talking, thinking and planning together, the therapist may help a teenager with facing specific stressors, phobias or difficulties.
- Therapy focused on specific issues, such as substance abuse, sexual or other risk-taking, aggression towards peers or family members, truancy and more.