What Parents Need to Know about Child Therapy
Child/adolescent therapy is unique because it involves more than one person. Usually, it’s the parents who recognize that their child may need the support of a therapist, so they are involved right away. Parents will then make the appointments and provide background information about the challenges their child is facing.
Sometimes, however, it is the child or teenager that initiates the process by asking their parent or guardian to help them find a professional to talk to. An interesting change I’ve seen in today’s world is that children and teenagers are more comfortable and familiar with the idea of taking care of their mental health. They may come across these topics on television or social media or learn that their friends, or maybe an athlete or celebrity they admire, also go to therapy. As a result, today’s generation is far more open to talking about mental health than ever before.
Finding Your Child the Right Therapist
Regardless of who takes the first step, there are several things to consider when choosing a therapist for your child or adolescent. It’s important that they feel their therapist genuinely cares about them, wants to understand them, and can be trusted to be responsible and thoughtful with what is shared in each session.
In my professional experience, building such a trusting relationship takes time because children, especially adolescents, need to know that therapists view them as more than just a “constellation of problems” to solve. They are unique individuals with agency, choices, and preferences, and the issues they face are often just as complex and multifaceted. These issues may be behavioral- how the child faces challenges, how they deal with responsibilities, and how they communicate. While other challenges may be brought about by their environment – it may be their home or school life or their family or community.
Balancing Confidentiality and Communication
Another thing for parents to consider when thinking about having their child work with a mental health professional is confidentiality. On the one hand, legally, the parent is the child’s guardian and has ownership of the child’s medical records. This means that anything the therapist documents or works on with the child is legally accessible to the parent. There are important reasons for this, as parents/guardians need to be aware of what is happening with their children in order to keep them safe and protect them from harm.
On the other hand, a sense of privacy is essential for children and teens, just as it is for adults, to feel comfortable discussing and revealing things about themselves with their therapist. This doesn’t mean therapists have no responsibility to address risky behavior or that they should ignore potentially dangerous actions children may take. Therapists must make a judgment call—is the behavior so dangerous that they must immediately inform the parent, or would the child benefit more from feeling they can openly discuss their choices and utilize therapy as a means to make more positive ones?
There is no simple or easy answer to this question. Telling the parents everything the child says can damage trust between the patient and their therapist. But not including or communicating regularly with the parents puts the child at risk of not getting the help they need. The challenge in child therapy lies in finding the right balance between confidentiality and parental involvement. The child should feel that they have a safe space to speak privately with the therapist and gradually open up about their difficulties. Simultaneously, the parents/guardians need to trust the therapist will communicate valuable information and guidance; working together in order to be the best caregivers possible for their children. Finding this balance can seem tricky, but it’s important to find a therapist you and your child or teen trust because, in the end, it’s all worth it.
It Takes a Village
As I’m sure you know, there is no authoritative guidebook for how to be the best parent to your child, but there is one proverb that has stood out to me in my work: it takes a village or a community of caring adults to raise a child. Even if you were somehow able to provide a perfect home and life for your child, there are still a multitude of changes, events, and circumstances that you have no control over. Adding a mental health specialist to your team can substantially increase your child’s chances of growing up in this complex world of ours, feeling safe, supported, and empowered.
Our trained therapists and professionals can help your child or teen make good choices, learn to regulate their emotions, and grow into happy, healthy individuals. To search through our therapist directory and make an appointment, click here.