What to Expect With a Child in Therapy
When a parent decides to take a child to therapy for behavioral or emotional issues for the first time, he or she may have concerns about what role they will play in the counseling process. Although every situation is different, the following is a guideline on what parents can expect their involvement to be during the therapeutic process:
Preschool – Elementary School
For a young child, a parent’s participation and follow-through is essential to the therapeutic process. Not only will the behavioral health professional need a report on the child’s behavior in between sessions, but it is also important for the participating parent to learn skills to help his or her child succeed in therapy.
In Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), an empirically-supported treatment for conduct and emotional disordered young children, parents are just as involved as the child in therapy. During sessions, parents are coached by the therapist and are taught new ways of interacting with his or her child. The goal is to establish a nurturing and secure relationship while increasing the child’s positive behavior and decreasing negative behavior.
Preteen - Middle School
For children falling in between and early adolescent age group, parent involvement during therapy sessions is still necessary, but there is more confidentiality between the child and therapist. Having a foundation of trust between the child and the therapist is very important in making progress, and the child being able to speak freely without his or her parents around helps build that rapport.
Although the majority of the session is spent with the therapist and child alone, the therapist will usually meet with parents at the end of each therapy session or set up a separate meeting to discuss concerns and strategies to implement at home.
High School – Late Teens
Depending on the concern, typically, for high school students and older teenagers the parent involvement in therapy is much less. Although an individual in this age group still relies heavily on his or her parent, it is a phase a life where one begins to transition from a child to an adult and is learning to reflect on problems and come up with his or her own solutions.
Although older teens have a lot of independence and adult-like qualities such as driving, making his or her own money, and keeping a schedule, a parent staying engaged and keeping the therapist updated on his or her teenager’s life is important. There will always be situations where a teen will need his or her parent’s help or be in a situation where a parent will need to assert authority.
In general, the most important thing a parent can do to help the therapeutic process is follow-through. The more a parent commits to his or her ‘homework assignments’ issued during counseling, the more likely the child is to succeed. At any age, children thrive on consistency!