From the moment your child entered your world, their happiness and health has been your top priority. You’ll do anything to ensure their well-being – but there are times when the matter is simply out of your hands. Whether the need for outside help stems from behavioral issues, or is situational, the decision to pursue therapy for your child is rarely a light one.
But once you’ve arrived at this conclusion that yes, you do want to find help for your little one, the next step is often even harder: How to find the right therapist.
If you’ve ever sought therapy for yourself, you know it’s important to find a practitioner you trust, and who has experience working with clients who have similar experiences. When it comes to your child, though, the nuances are even more profound: How can you assess fits if you’re not in sessions? What therapy approach will help your little one process and move forward from their situation? At the end of the day, how can you know if treatment is working?
Knowing what to look for, and what questions to ask to ensure quality of care, is an empowering start for anyone undertaking the process. Here’s how to find a therapist who’s right for your child.
- Step 1: Understand the issue, so you know what treatment to look for
- Step 2: Brush up on different therapist types and credentials
- Step 3: Determine whether you’re using your insurance, or going out of network
- Step 4: Start gathering names and compiling information
- Step 5: Look around to find the perfect fit
- Step 6: Meet with the therapist you’ve selected
- Step 7: Stay in the loop with care
Step 1: Understand the issue, so you know what treatment to look for
Knowing what you’d like your child to see a therapist for will influence your choice of provider, and potentially, which approach you need.
Here are some of the most common reasons that parents seek out therapists for their kids:
Social problems: When a child is having a hard time managing their emotions, they will often have problems socially across different settings. This can include:
- Problems at school with teachers and peers
- Bullying, whether in the role of bully or being bullied
- Social maturity
Learning difficulties:As many as one in five children has dyslexia, and more than 6.4 million children have been affected by ADHD at some point in their lives.
Family disruptions: Family difficulties, such as divorce, loss, or trauma, can lead to challenges, frustration, and pain among all family members. Therapy can help your child learn healthy coping mechanisms to get them through these difficult times.
Extreme feelings on an overly-frequent basis: Having tantrums and acting out are normal for children, but when these are happening often or in an extreme manner, they might be having a difficult time managing their feelings.
Trauma-related disorders: If your child has gone through emotional or physical trauma, it can lead to PTSD or other trauma-related disorders.
Step 2: Brush up on different therapist types and credentials
“Therapist” is broadly used for mental health professionals who are trained in helping patients overcome psychological and emotional issues.
Regardless of their official title or qualifications, mental health professionals are all trained in some form of psychotherapy. It's important to choose a therapist whose approach you feel comfortable with, and whose specialties meet your child’s needs.
Common credentials include:
- Licensed psychiatrist: Child and adolescent psychiatrists or pediatric psychiatrists are board-certified to treat mental health and behavioral challenges among children, adolescents, and their families. Treatment typically includes interviews with the young patient and their caregivers, including behavioral and academic problems and family history. Some child and adolescent psychiatrists offer talk therapy alongside conservative, age-appropriate medication management.
- Licensed psychologist: Child psychologists are therapy professionals who have undergone specific training to work with children experiencing emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenges. Many have doctorate degrees, and all must meet state and federal requirements to be cleared to work with children.
- Licensed social workers, counselors, or marital and family therapists: This is a broad category of providers who offer some form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy. Many have master's degrees, and require advanced training, supervision, and licensure to be able to practice psychotherapy in a private practice setting.
Different levels of training, as well as medication options, may affect rates and availability for providers.
Step 3: Determine whether you’re using your insurance, or going out of network
There are benefits to seeing therapists who are in-network, as well as those who are out-of-network with insurances.
Benefits of seeing in-network therapists:
- Typically more affordable, since after you meet your deductible you are only responsible for the co-pay (which can be as little as $20 - $50 per session)
Benefits of seeing out-of-network therapists:
- A greater pool of therapists to select from, since many therapists choose not to be in-network with insurance for cost, privacy, and logistical reasons
- More niche approaches are likely available from out-of-network therapists
- Shorter wait time to start treatment (in-network therapists are often booked for weeks, or even months, out)
- With certain insurance plans, you may be eligible for out-of-network benefits
Ultimately, whether they’re in- or out-of-network, the therapist you select should be someone you and your child feel comfortable with!
Step 4: Start gathering names and compiling information
Most people start their search for a therapist online. If you're in the following cities, use Zencare to look for vetted child therapists! The following profiles include up-to-date availability and insurance information:
- Child therapists in NYC
- Child therapists in Boston
- Child therapists in Chicago
- Child therapists in Providence
Step 5: Look around to find the perfect fit
You may need to schedule multiple calls with providers before you find a great fit. Here are some starting questions to narrow down your options:
- What is your approach?
Does the therapist use play therapy? Cognitive behavioral therapy? Family systems therapy? Knowing which therapy type they implement in sessions will give you a stronger sense of what to expect. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re not familiar with a concept, or want to learn more details.
- Do you have experience working with [our issue]?
Although every case and every child is different, having experience with similar situations means a therapist will have context for your child, and will be able to prep you as the parent(s) to roll with any punches, too.
- Would you be able to provide a treatment plan?
Being aware of your child’s treatment plan can arm you with the tools to help him or her do well in the plan and progress towards the goal of his or her treatment.
- How do you typically handle medications, if they are necessary?
Every parent has different preferences when it comes to medication; make sure you find a therapist who aligns with your preference so that it doesn’t become a prevailing issue, or an issue that pops up down the line.
You may also want to consider whether the therapist has experience working with families who have similar parenting situations and/or cultural context as you and your family.
Step 6: Meet with the therapist you’ve selected
For at least your child’s first visit, you will likely join for the session. Doing so will allow you to learn more about the therapist’s approach in treatment, along with how their potential treatment plan will go into effect.
After the session, evaluate whether you felt respected and understood, whether your child felt comfortable (or could grow to feel comfortable) in the therapist’s presence, and if you feel your family could establish trust with the therapist.
Step 7: Stay in the loop with care
Though moving forward, you might not be in sessions with your child, many therapists will meet with you before and/or after sessions to check in. Use this time to ask questions you have about treatment, raise any concerns you might have, and generally stay in the loop about what’s happening in sessions.
The decision to pursue therapy for your little one may not be a light one, but with the right fit, it can be an invaluable support – one that holds potential to leave a significantly positive impact on childhood, and beyond.