Child and Adolescent Therapy

What is child and adolescent psychotherapy? 

Child and adolescent psychologists treat a range of behavioral and emotional problems not easily addressed by other modes of treatment. Therapists are trained to carefully observe a child or adolescent and respond to what they might be communicating through their behavior and play. They also try to understand the meaning of the child or adolescent’s behavior in the context of their whole family.

How do child and adolescent psychologists work?
I generally see a child or adolescent individually on a regular basis and sometimes with parents or other family members. Through the relationship with the therapist in a consistent setting, the child can begin to express their most troubling thoughts and feelings. Confused, frightened, hurt, angry or painful feelings can gradually be put into words rather than actions. The therapist can help the child make sense of their own experience and develop their own individuality and potential.

How are parents or families involved? 

Therapists may also see parents without the child being present. This is called parental guidance. Sometimes only the parents are worked with. The work may focus on helping the parent make sense of the child's behavior, as well as understanding how the parents' own conflicts interfere with their ability to parent well. It may also explore different possibilities in parenting styles. Child and adolescent psychotherapists often consult with others who may be involved with the child. This could include teachers, school social workers, pediatricians and nannies. The supervision, training and consultation they offer can help these other professionals better understand the child's perspective and implement what is needed for growth and success.

What happens in a typical session with a child?
Child and adolescent psychotherapists tailor their approach to the individual child and work in an age-appropriate way. During an individual session, young children may not talk directly about difficult things but will communicate through play using the toys provided. Older children may also play or draw while teenagers are more likely to talk about their feelings. To a trained eye, play is a powerful form of communication which may express how a child feels about the difficulties he or she may be experiencing. The relationship between the child and the therapist is central to the treatment.

How long does treatment last?
Interventions with children and/or parents may be short- or long-term, from as few as two to six sessions to regular appointments over several years. Research has demonstrated the existence of a ‘sleeper effect’, with adults who had been treated as children or young people still feeling its positive impact many years later. 

What range of difficulties are treated?
Child and adolescent psychotherapists see children with a wide range of difficulties, including problems with peer relationships, family conflict, underachievement at school, insecurity and lack of confidence, or more serious mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, learning difficulties and bipolar disorder . They also treat children who are suffering the effects of neglect and abuse.