Does My Child Need a Therapist?
All children and teenagers go through an array of emotions, situations, and behaviors. But some children struggle more than others. One in every five children struggle with some kind of mental health concern. So how do you know if a child or teen needs more support? How do you decide to seek a professional for help?
Therapy for children and teens can be very beneficial, especially if you can be proactive and address a problem before a childhood difficulty becomes more serious. Having someone outside of your family, that your child can trust, can have an enormous impact. Below is a list of problems that a therapist can help with if your child or teenager has:
- Problems in multiple areas of life. For instance, behaviors or negative emotions are not only being seen at home, but your child’s concerning behaviors and emotions are being seen by others or in other environments in addition to their home.
- Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. This could be crying spells, often talking about being sad and hopeless, needing a lot of comfort, experiencing a death or loss, breaking down over small things, holding in tears and/or isolating.
- Constant verbal or physical anger or aggression and a tendency to overreact to situations. Behaviors such as hurting animals or setting fires.
- Persistent worry, anxiety, or fearfulness. There are many ways that this could present itself. It could look like your child or teenager is worrying excessively about the future, fidgeting, avoiding situations, asking a lot of questions, having trouble separating from a parent/guardian, repeating behaviors over and over to calm oneself, washing hands constantly, having outbursts in challenging situations, or reacting to a recent traumatic event.
- Preoccupation with a physical illness or their own appearance. They can start feeling bad about themselves, or feel less confident. Showing concerns with self-esteem.
- Having signs of self-harm. This doesn’t have to be just cutting on their arm. Check legs, stomach, and other body parts. Self-harm can also include head banging, hair pulling, or picking, scratching, burning, or punching oneself.
- A sudden, unexplained drop in grades at school
- A loss of interest in activities, friends, or things that they once enjoyed. Lack of motivation and energy for things they used to find fun.
- Showing significant and consistent changes in patterns of sleeping or eating. Having nightmares regularly.
- Hearing voices that aren't there, talking to things that aren’t there, or seeing things that you can’t see.
- Expressing thoughts of suicide. This could be in written or verbal form.
- An inability to concentrate, think clearly, or make decisions. Your child or teenager can’t sit still or focus on one task for an extended amount of time. They can be easily distracted or unorganized. The concern is if all of these things are interfering with their success in chores, school work, social functions, and/or daily functions.
- Alcohol or drug use
Reaching out for help with any of these behaviors can be tough. There is no shame in asking for help. It doesn’t mean you are a bad parent, guardian, or role model. It just means a different perspective or some more expertise is needed. Having someone outside of your family to talk to can be powerful. Sometimes just having that unbiased ear makes all the difference.
What to Expect:
When a child or adolescent is referred for therapy, the therapist typically likes to meet with both the child and parent/guardian for the initial session. The first session is designed to introduce everyone to the therapeutic process. The client (and parent/guardian) will have the opportunity to feel out the situation, meet the therapist, and become comfortable with the therapy setting, which may be in an office or a virtual telehealth session. As therapy progresses, the client will likely meet with the therapist alone. This provides an opportunity for the client to share feelings that may be difficult to discuss in the presence of a parent or guardian. The relationship and trust built between the client and the therapist can be a powerful tool in the process of change and healing. This relationship enables the therapist to help the client identify areas in need of change and make suggestions and plans for improvement. A therapist can help a client normalize and change perspective regarding behaviors, thoughts or feelings. Child and adolescent clients, in particular, are more likely to accept things about themselves or about what they have been through when they discover it with the help of someone outside of the family. In addition to working with the client, the therapist may meet periodically with parents/guardians to help them learn strategies to support their child and to build a healthier family environment.
Therapy provides an opportunity for self-discovery in a safe environment. If your child/adolescent is struggling with an emotional or behavioral concern, there is hope for healing and recovery. A therapist can help you navigate all kinds of situations and provide you with effective techniques and strategies to help regain balance in your lives. If you’d like to seek help from a Brook Lane therapist, give our intake/admissions office a call at 301-733-0330 to schedule an appointment for an evaluation.
Jenna Garner, LCSW-C, is a licensed clinical social worker practicing individual, family and group therapy at Brook Lane's North Village outpatient office. She also provides therapeutic services in Washington County Public Schools as a part of a grant funded program. She has over 13 years of experience working with children, teenagers, families, and adults in a variety of settings. Jenna is a graduate of West Virginia University with her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Social Work. Her education and career have always focused on her passion for working with children and families.