Why Do Kids and Teens Need Therapy?
Kids and teens need therapy when they have problems they can’t cope with alone. Or they need help when problems affect how well they do, feel, or act. If things don’t get better on their own, kids may need therapy so things can improve. Sometimes, entire families need support while trying to communicate, learn, and create boundaries.
How Does Therapy Work?
In therapy, kids learn by doing. With younger kids, this means working with the whole family, drawing, playing, and talking. For older kids and teens, therapists share activities and ideas that focus on learning the skills they need. They talk through feelings and solve problems.
Therapists give praise and support as kids learn. They help kids believe in themselves and find their strengths. Therapy builds helpful thinking patterns and healthy behavioral habits.
A therapist might meet with the child and parent together or meet with the child alone. It depends on the child’s age. A therapist might also meet with a parent to give tips and ideas for how to help their child at home.
What types of therapy are most effective for mental disorders in children?
For the most common childhood conditions, like ADHD, behavior disorders, anxiety, or depression, approaches using behavior therapy and cognitive-behavior therapy are more likely to reduce symptoms, but there is limited information about which type of therapy is best for treating each specific childhood mental disorder.
Based on the scientific evidence available, different therapies seem to work well for different types of problems:
Parent training in behavior management works well for
- ADHD; and
- Disruptive behavior disorders.
Child behavior therapy works well for
- ADHD; and
- Disruptive behavior disorders.
Cognitive-behavior therapy works well for
- Disruptive behavior disorder;
- Anxiety; and
Additional types of therapy can be effective for adolescents.
- Adolescents with disruptive behavior disorder may respond well to family therapy, an approach that includes multiple members of the family and focuses on learning better communication skills and ways to settle conflicts.
- Adolescents with depression may respond well to interpersonal psychotherapy, an approach in which the therapists help the adolescents learn ways to handle relationship problems.
What Happens in Therapy?
At first, the therapist will meet with you and your child to talk. They will ask questions and listen. This helps them learn more about your child and about the problem. The therapist will tell you how they can help.
After that, your child will go to more therapy visits. At these visits, your child might:
- Talk. Talking is a healthy way to express feelings. When kids put feelings into words instead of actions, they can act their best. When someone listens and knows how they feel, kids are more ready to learn.
- Do activities. Therapists use activities to teach about feelings and coping skills. They may have kids draw or play as a way to learn. They may teach mindfulness and calm breathing as a way to lower stress.
- Practice new skills. Therapists help kids practice what they learn. They might play games where kids need to wait their turn, use self-control, be patient, follow directions, listen, share, try again, or deal with losing.
- Solve problems. With older kids and teens, therapists ask how problems affect them at home, at school. They talk over how to solve these problems.
How Long Do Kids Do Therapy?
How long therapy lasts depends on the goals you and your child’s therapist have. Most of the time, a therapist will want to meet with your child once a week for a few months.
How Can Parents Help?
You can do things to help your child get the most from therapy. Here are some of them:
- Find a therapist you and your child feel comfortable with. Your child’s health care team can help you find someone.
- Take your child to all the appointments. Change takes time. It takes many therapy visits for your child to learn new skills and keep them up.
- Meet with your child’s therapist. Ask what to do when your child shows problems at home. Ask how to help your child do well.
- Spend time with your child. Play, cook, read, or laugh together. Do this every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
- Parent with patience and warmth. Use kind words, even when you need to correct your child. Show love. Give praise when your child is doing well or trying hard.