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Does My Child Need Therapy?

Five reasons to say “yes” to therapy for your child.

Key points

  • Many types of therapy for kids are based on science and proven helpful.
  • By seeking out therapy for your child, you have the opportunity to teach your child to reach out for help when they need it.
  • Adding a therapist to your child’s “team” gives your child another person to support their goals.

As a pediatric psychologist and professor who works in healthcare, people often ask me, “Do you think my child needs therapy?” This is usually followed by parents sharing their worries about their child and trying to decide if their child's challenges are “normal.”

As a society, we have historically stigmatized mental health symptoms and treatment. In the past, going to therapy was often seen as a failure or that something must be seriously wrong with someone who needed “professional help.” Luckily, these ideas are starting to change. Our society is starting to recognize the value of going to therapy to build skills and strategies to navigate life challenges.

Our mental health is part of our physical health. Taking our children to the pediatrician for well-checks and sick checks is expected. Why aren’t we regularly doing check-ups on our children’s mental health? Pediatricians provide anticipatory guidance on healthy eating and safety behaviors. Mental health specialists can guide adaptive coping and teach skills that can equip children to manage hardships as they grow and develop.

Mental health specialists can help parents separate normative developmental challenges from challenges that suggest a child could use some extra support. And even if your child is having normative, expected challenges, mental health specialists can help your child, and you develop strategies for managing these challenges.

As we have seen in recent news articles, the number of children who have struggled with mental health symptoms has substantially increased compared to pre-pandemic rates. So, even more of our children need mental health support to optimize their health and happiness.

Five Reasons to Consider Getting Your Child Therapy

1.) Therapy works.

The type of therapy that is best for your child depends on your child's challenges. Decades of research confirm that psychotherapy helps make life better. For children, a couple of types of therapy are particularly helpful, including (but not limited to) cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), behavioral therapy, social skills training, and parent-child interaction therapy.

2.) Learning adaptive coping skills can help children navigate adversity over time.

As our kids grow and develop, we are constantly teaching them new skills (for example, sleep training, potty training, riding a bike, navigating social relationships, etc.). As our children move from one stage to the next, they also learn how to deal with the tough stuff (for example, not wanting to share their favorite toy, not being included with their friends, family challenges).

If children learn how to adaptively cope with these challenges at a young age, they can enter adulthood with more tools to be resilient and deal with the challenges later in life. Therapy can help with this.

3.) Children can learn to ask for help when they need it.

“We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.”–Brené Brown, Rising Strong

How many of us try not to ask for help, sometimes thinking that being independent and strong means that we do everything on our own? It takes strength and vulnerability to ask for help.

It can be very hard for many children and adults to admit when we are having challenges and to ask for help when we need it. If your child is having challenges with stress and/or their mental health, teaching them that there are professionals that can help them deal with their stress and mental health provides a foundation for them to learn to ask for help when they need it over time.

4.) A therapist can add another team member to your child’s team.

“It takes a village to raise a child.”– Author unknown

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to support that child’s parent.” – Ann Douglas

Bringing in additional support to your child’s life can help your child and you. Social support can be a great protective factor when children go through difficult times. A therapist can be part of your child’s team and help them navigate the tough stuff. Having a therapist for your child can also help you as a parent adds to your team people who care about your child and who are helping you raise your child.

5.) You can quit it if you don’t like it.

If you try therapy for your child and either your child or you don’t like it, you can change therapists or stop treatment and try something else.

How do I find a therapist for my child?

  1. Think about what you need in a therapist: Ask yourself the following questions: What challenges are your child facing, or what symptoms do they have? Do you want someone specializing in a certain age group (early childhood, school age, adolescence)? Do you want to work with a therapist who does parent training and/or family therapy? Do you want someone who works with people with chronic health conditions? Are you looking for someone with experience with the LGBTQ+ community? Are you looking for a therapist who has experience working with members of your racial, cultural, or religious community? Do you want someone who has a certain number of years of experience?
  2. Check with your insurance company or decide if you can or want to private pay: Most insurance companies have lists of which therapists offer services that they will pay for.
  3. Ask your child’s doctor: Some doctors will have recommendations of therapists available to help with your specific challenges.
  4. Ask your friends: Word of mouth can be a great way to learn about your options in your local community.
  5. Call the therapist: Once you have a therapist in mind, call the therapist or their office and ask if they offer what you are looking for.

What if my child doesn’t like their therapist?

Find a new one! I tell my patients that if they aren’t comfortable with me or don’t like me, I will help them find another therapist. Therapists are not one-size-fits-all. Just like doctors, different styles and personalities work better for different people. When going to therapy, finding someone you feel comfortable with and who you can trust is essential.

Does my child need a therapist?

You don’t have to make this decision on your own. If you are asking the question, talk with your child’s pediatrician or find a mental health specialist to have your child evaluated. These professionals can help identify if there are certain skills that your child would benefit from learning in therapy or if there are other supports to help your child.

The ideas in this blog and resources are not a replacement for mental health care. If you are worried about your own or child’s behaviors or emotions, reach out to your doctor for help.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.