Child and Teen Therapy
Providing therapy for children requires special skills and talent. It's a whole different process from adult psychotherapy for several different reasons.
First of all, children are hardly ever self-referred – i.e. it's the adults (parents, teachers) who have a problem with the child and bring him or her in for psychotherapy. Therefore, as the first step, it is the job of the counselor to get the child motivated to meaningfully participate in counseling, and to do so while maintaining a delicate balance of sympathy and objectivity.
Secondly, children manifest emotional problems very differently from adults, and it can take careful investigation to get to the heart of the problem. For example: irritability and hyperactivity in children can be a symptom of a many different conditions – ADHD, depression, anxiety, the presence of an environmental stressor such as divorce, or in some cases even autism spectrum disorder. Sorting out all these different factors, makes the assessment of children a longer and more complex process – also because children do not have an adult's ability to recognize and articulately express what's bothering them.
For the same reason, the treatment of a child is quite unlike the treatment of an adult. Since younger children's cognitive abilities, language use, and judgment operate on a different level, traditional “talk therapy” is rarely useful with them. The solution? “Play is the work of children” -- and this applies to therapy as well. In my experience, play therapy is the best method to work out children's problems. When used by a skilled and experienced counselor, therapeutic play can move a child from symbolically processing their issues to verbalizing them, which is already winning half the battle -- while maintaining the fun, enjoyable atmosphere of the sessions (important in motivating the little one to continue attending the appointments).
In working with children, I have found that problems of emotional (as opposed to developmental) nature always have their roots in the child's environment: divorce, past trauma, death in the family, move, inconsistent or troubled caregivers, parental discord, etc. Even if the parents just “inherited” the problem, effective child therapy always includes the parents. When I treat a child, I usually have parent sessions at least once a month, during which I discuss with parents what they can do at home in order to help the child improve.
Communicating with the teachers of my minor clients is also an important part of the puzzle. They also need to know what is going on in the child's treatment, and how they can help. A therapist's presence can mollify a teacher who has been frustrated with the parents due to the child's behavior problems at school.
I have over a decade of experience working with children 5 – 18 years old. Prior to starting my private practice, I worked at a non-public school as a child therapist, with children who were not able to function in the mainstream academic environment. Their problems ran the whole gamut – defiance, depression, anxiety, mood swings, anger, aggression, high functioning autism, ADD / ADHD, shyness / social withdrawal, low self-esteem. On top of these challenging mental health conditions, many of the children and teens I have treated also struggled with common stressors such as divorce, exposure to domestic violence, death or serious medical condition of family member or close friend, sibling rivalry, relocation from another state, abuse, or neglect.