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How Do I Know If My Child Needs Therapy?

A child who is excessively shy may need therapy.
An individual therapist is typically best when starting a child in therapy.
A child who bullies or is regularly bullied may need therapy.
A child who constantly throws temper tantrums may need therapy.
Teens may need therapy to cope with the problems of adolescence.
Article Details
  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 July 2014
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Children like adults may need therapy for a variety of reasons. Parents may feel perplexed at how to tell when a child might benefit from therapy. Though it would be nearly impossible to list all the reasons why a child might need therapy, there are some “signs” or situations in which a parent may want to find a good therapist for a child or children.

There are numerous situations that may be helped by therapy. Significant life events like losing a parent, going through a divorce, relocating to a new area, or experiencing trauma can all be indications that therapy might be helpful. Also, a child who is suffering from a major illness, or who has a caretaker or close friend suffering from a major illness are all good reasons for therapeutic support.

Often such therapy should begin with an individual therapist, and one who specializes in the issues the child is encountering. Older children may also benefit from group therapy that focuses on issues like sexual abuse, dealing with divorce, or grief counseling. Groups also exist for children who have medical conditions, though these can be difficult to find if you do not live in a fairly well populated area. A personal therapist or a large hospital is often the best resource for finding these types of groups.

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In other cases, a child may display signs that concern parents. These signs can differ widely depending upon the child. Here are a few common causes for concern:

  • One notes or discovers drug or alcohol abuse by the child.
  • The child demonstrates behavior inappropriate to his/her age, such as temper tantrums that occur frequently in a 10 year old.
  • The child is having persistent difficulty in school, or suddenly begins to experience difficulty in school.
  • An outgoing child becomes shy and withdrawn.
  • A shy and withdrawn child appears unable to cope with the social challenges of school.
  • The child is being bullied at school or is being a bully to others.
  • The child seems angry all the time.
  • The child seems anxious all the time or has panic attacks.
  • The child appears depressed most of the time.
  • The child has trouble eating or sleeping on a consistent basis.
  • The child is persistently defiant in the home or school setting.

There are numerous reasons beyond these why a parent might consider therapy for a child. One looks at children who refuse to go to school or who have extreme difficulty leaving parents for any period of time. Other times, children tell us they need therapy by their own self-statements. Kids with low self-esteem may frequently voice their feelings of inadequacy. Alternately they may act brash and overconfident and appear to have little sensitivity to the feelings of others.

Often the best resource for school age children is to seek out a school counselor or psychologist and ask for referrals to therapists. Church groups, insurance companies, children’s doctors, and parents you trust may also lead you to good therapists. When presenting the concept of therapy to children, one should remain upbeat and positive. The child should not feel that there is something “wrong” with them, or that they need to be “fixed” by a “shrink.” Instead parents can talk with their children about how we all need a little extra help sometimes to deal with things that are challenging.

It is often the case that a child who needs therapy has a caretaker or parent who also needs therapy. Caring for a child in need of therapy can be a strain, and parents can feel guilty about “causing” a child to need therapy. Children can pick up on a parent’s feeling of guilt or frustration. Further, if the problem requiring therapy is situational, like dealing with a death, an illness or a divorce, parents can model for their children by seeing their own therapists to help them through difficult spots. The child can then see that therapy is a normal thing to do, and will hopefully not feel guilty or out of place because they see a therapist as well.

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Discuss this Article

sneakers41
Post 5

@Mutsy -I have also heard that children that lose a parent sometimes deal with the pain as a form of abandonment when the parent really the parent could not help the situation.

This is where I think that grief therapy is helpful because it helps the child to slowly heal and deal with their feelings in a constructive manner. When children or teenagers become withdrawn and don’t talk about their feelings it is time to really seek help because the feelings that they are experiencing might be overwhelming to them.

I also know that teenagers do not have the ability to put things in perspective so a wait and see attitude is not the right approach in my opinion. Things don't always get better.

mutsy
Post 4

@SurfNTurf- What a great idea. I have never heard of therapy with horses. I recently read that there are a lot of counseling therapy techniques that can help a troubled kid open up to a therapist.

Sometimes the therapist will have the child use a journal to document his or her feelings. Other times they may use hypnosis especially during trauma therapy in order to find out the source of the pain.

They say that a lot times a person blocks out traumatic experiences because they are too painful to deal with. Through hypnosis a therapist can find out what caused the pain and how this manifested itself in the person’s life.

For example, a child that was sexually abused might choose to overeat or do drugs as a way of dealing with the pain. A therapist can bring out this information and help the child deal with the original source of the pain as well as the addictive behaviors regarding the overeating or the drug abuse.

surfNturf
Post 3

I recently read that there is adolescent therapy involving horses.

With the use of horses, the therapist can view the behavioral patterns that exist with the horse and often the adolescent takes on a parental role with the horse which can shed light regarding the family dynamics and offer clues as to why the child might experience issues with his family.

There should also be family therapy in addition to individual therapy so that the family members can help the teen deal with his issues in a constructive manner.

Sometimes teens suffer from temporary bouts of depression because they do not have the experience in life to be able to put things in perspective.

This is why everything is such a big deal to them and why they don’t seem to get over things as quickly as we would like. It is important to always validate a teens feelings and listen to what troubles them.

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