What is Talk Therapy?
Psychotherapy or “Talk Therapy” is a form of treatment that involves therapeutic conversations and interactions between a therapist, child and/or family. It can help children, teens and families understand and resolve problems, change behavior, improve interactions, and make positive changes in their lives. There are several types of therapy that involve different approaches, techniques, and interventions. At times, a combination of different psychotherapy approaches, such as individual and group therapy, may be helpful. In some cases a combination of medication with psychotherapy may be more effective.
Bringing your child or teen into therapy or counseling is a big decision for any parent. However, if you understand the process and help your child or teen know what to expect, comfort and confidence in the process increase for both parent and child. Involvement in your child or teen’s therapy sessions usually depends on their age, focus of treatment, and individual family circumstances. Depending on the situation, therapy may involve one parent, both parents, or the child on their own. Typically young children will have a parent involved, while older children and teens will benefit from individual sessions, with the parent being informed or involved as treatment progresses.
Family Therapy may be helpful to improve communication, solve family problems, understand and cope with special family situations, or create a better functioning home environment. Family therapy sessions usually include the child or adolescent, parents, siblings, and other family members.
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
CBT is a specific type of therapy that helps children and teens to look at their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It shows them how to replace negative thoughts with more realistic, positive ones to improve they mood and behavior. CBT also helps children and adolescents to develop healthy coping skills, relaxation strategies and effective ways of obtaining support from others. While using CBT, the therapist and child/teen work together to set goals, identify problems and check progress. There may be “homework” assignments to complete between sessions to help practice skills they are learning. CBT is much shorter than some other kinds of therapy, which can go on for years. The average number of sessions adults or kids attend is 16. This takes about four months. But each person is different, and the number of recommended sessions can vary. Research shows that CBT is effective in treating a variety of conditions, including depression and anxiety.
How to explain therapy to children and teens
As a parent, it can be challenging to explain behavior therapy to children. In order to prepare them for a visit, the following examples may be helpful. Also, feel free to contact us in order to identify specific ways to discuss starting therapy with your child or teen.
Preschoolers (ages 3-5 years)
Children this age have magical thinking and are concrete thinkers. Keep the explanation simple and concrete. Reassure your child there are no shots or medical procedures if the child asks.
- As a parent, try this explanation:
- “We are going to see a talking doctor who can help us learn to listen/use our words/obey Mom and Dad.
School-aged children (ages 6-9 years)
Children in this age range begin to have a broader understanding of the world around them. By this age, children are aware of their own behaviors, but may not be fully aware of how their behaviors affect those around them. If your child would benefit from talk therapy, it’s likely that their behaviors are interfering with school functioning and relationships at home.
- With this age group, be honest and forthcoming when explaining behavior therapy.
- “We are going to see a talking doctor who will help us figure out better ways of dealing with anger, frustration and disappointment.”
Tweens (ages 10-12 years)
This age group of children are developing more abstract reasoning. The peer group becomes increasingly important, and children want to be “normal.” Seeking behavior therapy for children in this age group may be to address anxiety or problems with interpersonal relationships. Parents may consider explaining behavior therapies in a manner that is clear, honest and shows compassion.
- For example:
- “I know you’ve been dealing with a lot of stress lately with school and friends and even at home. We are going to see a type of behavior specialist who can help me figure out ways to help you at home and help you figure out ways to manage your stress.”
Adolescents (ages 13 and older)
Adolescents begin to form their own individual identities, while parents continue to play an important role in their lives. At this age, teens are well aware of the challenges they face and the impact it may have on them. Developmentally, most adolescents tend to focus more on themselves than others. Thus, they possess little insight into how their own behaviors may contribute to the problem. Although teens are older and may even “look like” an adult, they are not “little adults.” In fact, their brains will not be fully developed until they are 25 years old. Talk therapy at this age may be to address depression, anxiety, peer or family interactions, school related concerns and/or self-esteem.
- Try to explain therapy in a way as to partner with the teen to show that the family is working together to address the challenges.
- “This year has been really stressful for us all. The way we have been handling the situation has not been helpful. Our family is going to meet with someone who can help us figure out better ways of getting along and managing stress and disappointment.”
- At this age, teens can help decide what characteristics of a therapist they may prefer and contribute to “goodness of fit.”