Child Therapy: Expectations vs. Reality

The Different Shapes of Therapy

Most people think of therapy as a client and therapist sitting in a room together an hour a week talking. That is what parents typically expect when they first think of getting help for their child.  

Also, when seeking help for their child, parents often feel exhausted, stuck and helpless. Feeling unable to help their child themselves, they are often desperate for the psychologist to make things better for their child.

The first step in therapy is to explore the most helpful and effective approach to helping the child and family. Parents are surprised that we often suggest something different to the child-and-therapist-in-a-room-for-an-hour-a-week model.

Of course, there are times when a child or teenager may benefit from talking to someone outside of the family. And so, we do provide this type of therapy, but perhaps only 30-50% of the time.  Here are some other ways we work with children at and and why:

Therapy through the parent and/or school

Sometimes we never meet the child at all. All of the work is done through the parent and/or school. There are so many reasons for this:

  • It may be more difficult if changes to their school or family environment do not take place first.
  • A parent is with a child most of the week and can catch those relaxed or opportune moments whilst a child might feel nervous or scared with a therapist.
  • We have found change to be more sustainable when we help to change a parent’s or teacher’s understanding and sense of competency in helping the child.
  • Ensuring that the child does not have a sense of themselves of being different or needing therapy.
  • Sometimes the parents and teachers need the space and care every bit as much as the child.  

Working with the child and family together

We might meet the parents to discuss the concerns first and then invite the child to join subsequent sessions. Together we explore the family rules, roles and responsibilities alongside the issue of concern and what the family could do about it. This can be a very powerful approach for the reasons listed in the previous section in addition to:

  • The strength, resourcefulness and love of a family is astounding. Big changes can happen very quickly when they are given the space and support to reflect, discuss and explore together.
  • The child feels the support of the therapist and their family together.

Groups and Mentoring

Very soon we hope to include peer workshops facilitated by a psychologist as part of our online programmes for parental separation and bereavement. The benefits of group over individual therapy are:

  • Young people learn from each other – peer support and recommendations go so much further!
  • Children feel less alone and different in their struggles or hurt.

Physical and sensory interventions

When children are struggling with trauma, anxiety, sleep disturbance, anger problems and behaviour difficulties there are often underlying problems with emotional and physical regulation. The child’s physical and emotional system becomes easily overstimulated or overwhelmed and they struggle to calm back down again. It can be useful to introduce sensory and physical interventions alongside or instead of traditional talking therapy. Trampolining, swimming, building dens, weighted blankets, yoga, singing, drumming and eating can all become therapy! This applied to adults as well as children. The benefits are:

  • Psychological therapy is applied more easily and more quickly once the physical regulation is in place.
  • The child gets to have a lot of fun!

Work with your therapist to think more flexibly about the best way of supporting or bringing about change for your child – this may well fall outside of the traditional therapy model.  Our family consultation model at Pocket Family Psychologist are designed to provide a more flexible space for individuals or families to access psychological support and think creatively about the shape this should take.

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"Dr Andrea Shortland’s session for MediaCom on a children’s mental health was incredibly informative"

“Dr Andrea Shortland’s session for MediaCom on a children’s mental health was incredibly informative. During the second period of lockdown and home-schooling; parents and children found themselves again in a period of upheaval and transition. Many parents and carers were extremely worried about their children’s mental health and their own ability to be present and engaged whilst also playing the role of teacher and care giver. Dr Shortland gave attendees an insight into how many parents were feeling; tips on supporting children and helping them cope whilst studying from home and also managing their mental health. She also helped us realise the importance of taking care of ourselves in order to effectively support our children. It was such a useful session that we realise it was also pertinent for not only children’s mental health but also adults! We will be holding another session with Dr Andrea and MediaCom soon.”

Avelon Thompson, MediaCom (following a parenting workshop)