When emotional and behavioral issues are affecting a child’s ability to function in their daily lives, therapy can provide a route to wellness. Depending on the needs of your child and family, certain types of therapy might work better than others. Read on to learn about different types of therapy and ways that child therapy can help kids discover the tools and inner resources they need to thrive.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- How Can Therapy Help Your Child?
- The Main Types of Child Therapy Techniques
- When Is the Right Time to Seek Child Therapy
- How to Talk to Your Child About Therapy
How Can Therapy Help Your Child?
Therapy can help kids explore their feelings in a safe, supportive, non-judgemental environment. Through talking, playing, making art, and more, kids learn healthy ways of coping, expressing themselves, and behaving. Therapy can be beneficial for a wide range of issues, from kids experiencing a difficult time in their lives, to kids with ongoing mental health issues. Child therapists work to help kids learn strategies for managing their emotions and to promote protective factors that contribute to resilience and reduce the negative effects of stress. Often in therapy, kids develop increased self-awareness and self-esteem as they begin to feel understood and empowered. Parents may also notice behavioral improvements and positive effects at home and school as a result of therapy sessions. Ultimately, child therapists can play an important role in nurturing the healthy social, emotional, and cognitive development of a child during their formative years.
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The Main Types of Child Therapy Techniques
Child-Centered Play Therapy
CCPT embraces play as the language of children and has a core belief that all children possess a natural drive towards growth. Within this model of therapy, kids are able to express themselves freely through play, using toys, games, and more. This type of therapy is particularly well suited to younger children. Play Therapists work to create a positive relationship and a safe accepting environment that fosters discovery, growth, and healing. One key distinction between CCPT and other forms of child therapy is that kids lead the way during the therapeutic process in CCPT.
Parent-Child Interaction Therapy
PCIT is designed for young children who have behavioral problems. During parent-child play sessions in the therapy office, PCIT therapists coach parents through an earpiece, providing guidance on how to interact with their child and manage difficult behaviors. The goal of therapy is to reduce behavioral issues in frequency, duration, and severity, and to strengthen the parent-child bond so that a secure attachment develops. PCIT can boost children’s self-esteem, help them develop prosocial skills, and improve their attention span.
Child-Parent Relationship Therapy
Child-parent relationship therapy is a play-based therapeutic program for parents and children aimed at reducing stress in the parent-child relationship and strengthening the parent-child bond. This is accomplished by equipping parents with strategies to address their child’s problematic behavior. In CPRT, therapists primarily work with parents in small groups, teaching them how to effectively respond to the needs of their children in empathetic and effective ways. Parents practice these skills at home during play sessions with their children.
Emotionally Focused Therapy
Emotionally focused therapy and emotion focused therapy sound very similar, but they are not the same. Emotionally focused therapy is rooted in attachment theory and focuses on strengthening interpersonal relationships as a path to wellness. For children, this involves exploring the parent-child relationship. The goal is to form a secure parent-child attachment, which promotes a more positive self-concept and better emotion regulation for the child. Emotionally focused therapy can help reduce family stress and provide parents with helpful tools to support their children.
Throughout history, art has been a medium for self-expression, helping people communicate their thoughts, emotions, and stories. Recognizing the therapeutic value in artistic expression, art therapists engage kids in the creative process to promote communication and healing. Due to the non-verbal nature of creating art, this type of therapy is ideal for kids who have a hard time talking about their feelings. Art therapy also engages the senses and is a great fit for kids who gravitate towards visual and tactile activities.
Similar to art, music has some inherently therapeutic qualities. Listening to music can provide a calming influence, neutralize negative emotions, and promote self-expression. Music therapy looks different from person to person. Some kids play an instrument, some sing or write songs, and others listen to music to help them reach their therapy goals. Music therapy has been found to reduce stress, help kids express their emotions, and even promote physical rehabilitation.
Behavior therapy utilizes principles of reinforcement to encourage positive behaviors and reduce problematic behaviors in children. Behavioral therapy techniques have been found to be particularly effective for kids with ADHD. The best part? Behavior strategies learned in therapy can easily be implemented at home and school. If your child’s behavior is negatively impacting them and the people around them, behavior therapy might be worth looking into.
Occupational therapy for kids helps eliminate barriers affecting their social, emotional, and physical functioning. During therapy, kids may practice fine motor skills, basic life skills, and even emotional regulation. Occupational therapists (OTs) also work with kids who have sensory processing issues. Occupational therapy is not a type of mental health counseling, however, there are many ways in which it can support children’s mental wellness.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Ever heard the phrase “think happy, be happy”? CBT is a popular form of therapy that focuses on how thoughts affect feelings and behavior. CBT teaches kids to recognize the power of their thoughts and helps them to develop healthy patterns of thinking and behaving. Working with a CBT therapist, kids can practice reframing and replacing negative thoughts with more helpful and positive thoughts. CBT can empower children with practical strategies that they can use every day.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy
DBT expands upon cognitive behavioral therapy, incorporating additional strategies such as validation and self-acceptance. This type of therapy is appropriate for a variety of mental health issues, however, DBT is particularly effective with certain more serious mental illnesses. Kids and teens who struggle with self-regulation or who demonstrate destructive behavioral patterns can benefit from DBT. Mindfulness, emotion regulation, and interpersonal skills are all components of DBT.
Child Anger Management Therapy
Anger is a normal human emotion, however, when anger is affecting a child’s ability to live happily and healthily, anger management therapy can help. Anger management therapy helps kids identify and overcome emotional stressors that cause anger. During this goal-oriented type of therapy, you can expect kids to learn how to express themselves in appropriate ways, identify triggers and unhelpful thought patterns, use problem-solving skills, and learn strategies to calm down.
Child Trauma Therapy
It is important that any mental health intervention for a child exposed to trauma is trauma-sensitive. Kids are naturally resilient, however, trauma can have debilitating and pervasive effects if left untreated. There are a few evidence-based practices that address childhood trauma. A pediatrician, school counselor, or social worker can help you consider your options, and make a referral to a mental health professional. One common type of child trauma therapy for kids is trauma-focused CBT (TF-CBT).
Therapy for Children with Autism
There are several therapy options to choose from for children with autism. Autism diagnoses are organized along a spectrum, and kids with autism have unique strengths and difficulties. Therefore there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. If you are looking for therapy for a child with autism, it can help to start by finding a therapist who has experience working with autism. A multidisciplinary approach may be needed to address a child’s social, behavioral, and cognitive needs. For example, kids with autism may work with a behavior therapist, OT, and speech language pathologist.
Many types of psychotherapy can be done individually, in a group, or a combination of both. Group therapy can be a wonderful way for kids to connect with other children experiencing similar issues, helping kids feel validated and understood. Group therapy can also provide kids an opportunity to practice social skills and form supportive bonds with other kids. In one type of group therapy, family therapy, family members meet with a therapist together to navigate relational conflicts and improve communication within the family.
When Is the Right Time to Seek Child Therapy
When and whether to seek the support of a mental health professional for your child is a very personal decision. However, there are some cues and clues that can help you determine if your child needs therapy. Considering the severity of the problem is a good place to start. For example, early intervention for serious mental health problems, such as trauma or eating disorders, is imperative. Other, less severe issues may work themselves out with time. If a problem becomes persistent, overwhelming, or disruptive to everyday life, it may be time to seek the assistance of a child therapist. When the well-being of your child or family is being impacted, it’s important to seek help. If you decide to wait, be sure to monitor the situation carefully. Left untreated, mental health issues can be harmful to a child’s healthy development.
How to Talk to Your Child About Therapy
Being open and honest with your child about therapy and answering their questions builds trust. Make sure you choose a calm moment for the discussion. You don’t want your child to perceive therapy as punishment, but instead as a type of support. It can be helpful to empathize with how your child might be feeling, while also adopting a positive and hopeful tone. Some kids are excited or relieved to receive help, while others may be apprehensive. Emphasize that therapy is a normal, healthy activity. You may want to mention that many kids participate in therapy for a variety of reasons. Finally, let your child know what to expect during therapy so they can feel more prepared, especially if they’re nervous. For example, “Ms. Smith is going to talk with you about some of the feelings you’ve been having. Her job is to help you. She also said you might play some fun games.” You may want to consider consulting with your child’s therapist on how to best approach the topic.