How to Choose a Therapist for Your Child

By Michael Cox, Youth Services Family Therapist, CSW

You’ve tried everything. You’ve taken away their phone, called their school, even asked for your clergy to get involved and yet your teen is not themselves. You’re considering finding them a therapist, but have never done that before. Here are some tips from our therapists, on selecting the right support for your child.

Shop around for connection: Research about what works in therapy indicates that the relationship between client and therapist is a powerful factor in promoting change. This means it is worthwhile to shop around and find someone with whom your child can connect. Consider reading a therapist bio on their website, calling them on the phone, or asking for a brief consultation to get a feel for any connection. Most therapists will not charge for consultation, or will have a reduced fee for the initial meeting. Take your child/teen to all consultations, and ask them how they felt after the meeting. Your child’s opinion makes a significant difference.

Expertise: Just like many medical providers, therapists can specialize or be general practitioners. Some therapists only work with children, others only with adults. Some agencies focus on certain disorders such as drug addiction or autism. In your consultation with therapists, ask about their training and experience with clients of your child’s age, who have similar symptoms. While many general therapy principles apply across all populations and issues, finding someone with a track record of treating similar conditions may allow you to hit the ground running.

Therapy model(s): There are more than 500 types of therapy practiced today. As a consumer, it is not expected that you know of all 500; most therapists don’t either. Some types of therapy, usually referred to as “models,” have been tested and shown to be effective, while others have not received the same testing. If it is important to you that your child only receives treatments which have been tested, make sure to clarify with your clinician. Possible questions include: “Tell me about the model(s) of therapy you practice.” “What kind of evidence is there that this treatment is effective?” And, “Why do you use the model(s) you do?” This could provide insight in to how the therapist views the situation, and how they would approach treatment.

Shopping around for a therapist to find connection, expertise, and models are a good way to increase chances of successful therapy outcomes. Our clinicians add the following red flags to watch out for while shopping:

Be cautious about therapists who have an agenda, or who believe they know what your child needs before getting to know them. Examples of an agenda may include using a new therapy model to “prove” it works, or aiming to convince you and your child that they have “the” solution to the current problem.

Be cautious about therapists who seem rigid in their views. To date, there haven’t been any therapeutic models which “cure” people, or work for all people in all situations. Therapists must tailor-fit their interventions to the client’s needs; something which requires flexible and creative thinking.

And finally, some therapy models have been discovered by accident and are practiced without understanding how they work, or if they do. While many scientific achievements have been discovered serendipitously, be weary if the therapist you interview recently invented a new approach and wants to test it on your child. Many of these models make large claims about “healing” any condition in very few sessions. Human emotion, behavior, and mental wellbeing are not perfectly understood and large claims about new ideas should be a red flag.

For more information about finding the right therapist for your child/teen, or to meet our clinical team, contact Salt Lake County Division of Youth Services at 385-468-4500.

Cited resources:
Duncan, B. (2010). On becoming a better therapist. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

Duncan, Barry, Scott Miller, Bruce Wampold, and Mark Hubble. The Heart and Soul of Change: Delivering What Works in Therapy, 2nd Edition. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2010.

Contributing therapists:
Doug Bunker, Ph. D
David Christensen, LCSW
Michael Cox, CSW
Carolyn Hansen, LCSW
Amy Kershisnik, LCSW
Lorri Lake, LCMHC
Nefily Ledezma, AMFT

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About Carol Hendrycks

As a communication professional I have enjoyed working for profit and non-profit organizations for over 30 years. I came to Youth Services in 2009 to volunteer and never left! It's a terrific blend of taking what I am passionate about i.e. communications and spinning my talents to benefit youth that is a most rewarding career and personal experience.
This entry was posted in Communication Tips, Family Counseling, Mental Health, Mental Health, Parenting Tips, Safe Place, SLCO, Substance Abuse, Teen Counseling. Bookmark the permalink.

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