Therapy for children and teens is quite different than with adults. Children are usually brought to therapy by their parents to seek support and strategies to help them through a difficult period in their life. Parents often don't even know what to expect or what the process involves. Below we have a short synopsis about the structure of therapy so that parents and carers can understand the process and can talk more with their child in advance so they will have a better idea of what it's all about.
What happens in therapy?
For children & teenagers [under age 16] the first meeting is with the parents only, so as to get an insight as to the main problems that are presenting for the child/young person. This helps the therapist learn more about them, their environment and about the problem itself. During that meeting the therapist also gives parents some information in relation to therapy sessions, duration and some of the strategies used. This is also an opportunity to explain the concept of confidentiality in therapy and a time for parents to ask some questions. Parents are also required to sign a Consent Form stating their permission for the child/young person to attend therapy.
The second meeting will be with parent(s) and their child. The first part of that session is usually given to talking with the child and parent together, about the reasons for coming to therapy. The second part of the session is with the child on their own during which time the therapist will do a ‘getting to know you’ activity which is aimed at starting to build the therapeutic relationship between the child and the therapist and to also put the child more at ease with the whole idea of coming to therapy. Building this relationship is paramount in terms of fostering trust so that in future sessions the child becomes more at ease when discussing problems that are causing difficulties in their life.
Using therapeutic interventions the following 3-4 sessions involve continuing to build the relationship between child and therapist whilst also finding out a bit more from the child about their life and the experiences that may be contributing to the issues presenting for them.
During the following sessions therapeutic interventions include: healthy ways to express feelings and activities that help learn more about coping with big feelings. This may involve drawing, use of therapeutic materials, social stories and play. They may also learn some techniques to help lower stress. With older kids and teens, they may discuss with their therapist how problems affect them at home, at school, in relationships with friends or family and look at effective ways to help solve problems or deal more effectively with them.
How Long Does Therapy Last?
How long therapy lasts depends on the nature of the presenting issues and concerns discussed in the initial meetings. In terms of best practice, therapy sessions for children and teens usually involves 12 sessions with the child but in some circumstances this may be slightly shorter or continue for longer depending on the level of difficulties in the child’s life.
Usually the initial 6 sessions with the child are on a weekly basis. The therapist and parent(s) then meet again for feedback on how the child is doing and if there have been any noticeable changes. At this time, the therapist and parent revisit original goals for therapy and discuss progress. The child’s therapy sessions may then continue on a weekly basis or move to fortnightly before the phasing out sessions. In some circumstances an ongoing maintenance plan may then be put in place.
How Can Parents/Carers Help?
Some of the things you can do to help your child get the most from therapy:
•Make sure your child attends for their scheduled appointments. Change takes time. It can take many therapy visits for your child to learn new skills and keep them up.
•If, during your child’s therapy programme you have any concerns please discuss them with the therapist so that they can be addressed. If something relevant or significant presents between sessions or just before the child’s next session, let the therapist know so that the issue can be taken into account during the child’s therapy session. This can be done through e-mail, scheduled phone call or in writing.
•Between sessions try to organise periods of time with your child on their own. Play, cook, read, watch a movie or do activities together, even if it's only for a few minutes. During this period of attunement the child may open up about other issues that may be on their mind.
•Give praise when your child is doing well or trying hard, particularly on new skills.