Finding the right therapist can feel like a daunting task. With so many different provider options with differing approaches and areas of expertise, the decision can feel overwhelming. Of course, getting a recommendation from your child’s school, medical provider, or a friend or family member is a good first step, but there are specific things that you should be looking for when initiating treatment or considering a change in your current provider. Some questions to ask yourself include the following.
Does the provider specialize in treating the types of difficulties that my child is encountering?
Even though you may not fully understand the underlying reasons for your child’s difficulties, your current concerns about how they are doing emotionally and behaviorally should drive your selection. Important questions to ask yourself include, “Does this provider specialize in working with children?” “Are the treatment approaches that they specialize in proven effective for children with my child’s needs?” “Do they have any special certifications or trainings in treating the difficulties that my child is encountering?” This information should be easily found on a provider’s website, but if not, these questions can be asked during the initial phone contact or intake meeting.
Is my provider able to clearly explain to me their understanding of my child’s difficulties and collaboratively develop specific treatment goals?
Although an exact understanding of what is driving your child’s difficulties may not be immediately apparent as every child is unique and complex, your provider should be able to articulate their basic understanding to you as well as how they are going to gather additional information in order to increase this understanding. With this explanation in mind, they should also work with you to identify treatment goals so that it is clear what would indicate treatment success, and interventions should always be focused on working towards those specific goals. Your provider should also be able to clearly explain their therapeutic interventions and their intended purpose.
Does my provider communicate with me about my child’s progress in therapy, reach out for updates about how he or she has been doing, and include me in sessions?
Psychotherapy with children is only effective when including their parents in treatment. Although therapists need to keep confidentiality in mind so that your child continues to feel safe in sharing personal things in session, your child’s therapist should be communicating with you on a consistent basis. This communication is essential in helping your child’s therapist better understand your child’s difficulties and areas of success, as well as ensuring that everyone is on the same page regarding how to best support your child. Areas of discussion should include techniques that are being worked on in session and how you can reinforce them at home, topics that come up in session that increase your understanding of your child’s experiences and reasons for their difficulties, and successes seen in session. Your provider should also be open to including you in family sessions if there are topics that should be discussed with everyone present or thoughts and feelings that would be helpful for your child to share with you.
Is the provider willing to collaborate with my child’s school or other providers if I would like them to?
A good provider understands that the best treatment will include obtaining and sharing information with other providers so that everyone is on the same page in working with your child. These conversations can greatly enhance your child’s therapist’s understanding of your child’s difficulties and help inform their work with him or her. If your child is experiencing any emotional or behavioral difficulties at school, the most effective treatment will include collaborating with the school on how they can support your child in making progress through implementing specialized interventions such as a behavior plan or safety plan. If your child is seeing a psychiatrist, it will be important for your child’s therapist to share their observations with the psychiatrist to help inform their decision in what medication to prescribe. Overall, the more people that your child’s therapist can collaborate with, the more effective treatment will be.
Is my child making progress?
This may seem to be an obvious question to ask yourself but it can be a bit more complex in nature at times. Yes, your child should be making progress in therapy, but it is also important to keep in mind that progress can be very slow in nature. Therapy is a process and every child responds to it in a different way – with some making quick progress and others taking it a bit slower. If your child does not seem to be making progress, your child’s therapist should be open to discussing this with you. During this discussion, they should be able to articulate what progress they have seen in session and if not any, their understanding of why this is. Sometimes it may take several sessions for your child to feel comfortable with their therapist and to start opening up to them about their difficulties. Sometimes your child may also be hesitant to engage in activities that target their difficulties and implement techniques practiced in session at home. Regardless of the situation though, your child’s therapist should be open to discussing any delays in progress with you and what they are doing to continue working towards the intended goals. Your provider should also be willing to discuss with you their own limitations and if they know of any other treatment approaches that might be more beneficial in helping your child even if it means referring you to another provider.
If at any time you ask yourself these questions and come to the decision that your child’s therapist is no longer the right fit, please rest assured that this is okay. All therapists are unique in their own way and because of that each and every therapist will not be the right fit for every family. Frequent changes in therapists can be difficult though for children as they need to continually try to open up to someone new, so before making the decision to let your child’s therapist go, please consider scheduling a meeting to discuss your concerns and try to problem-solve how to move forward in a way that best supports your child.
Written by Erika Stapert, PsyD