How does a child and adolescent psychotherapist work?
Working with children and young people
I may see a child or young person individually, with parents or other family members. Sessions are arranged one or more times weekly.
Through the therapeutic relationship with me and in a consistent setting, the child or young person may begin to be able to express their most troubling thoughts and feelings. Confused, frightened, hurt, angry or painful feelings can gradually be put into words rather than actions. I can help the child make sense of their own experience and help to develop their own individuality and potential.
Working with parents and families:
I also see parents or carers without the child being present. Sometimes the child is seen by another therapist while work with the parents goes on; sometimes only the parents are worked with. The work will help the parent make sense of the child’s behaviour, thoughts and feelings, as well as understanding how the parents’ own conflicts impact their ability to parent well. Consultations with parents might explore different possibilities in parenting styles.
What happens in a typical session with a child?
I work in an age-appropriate way with the patient. During an individual session, young children do not usually talk directly about difficult things but will communicate through play using the toys I provide. Older children may also play or draw, whilst teenagers are more likely to talk about their feelings. Infants and parents are seen together to think about their patterns of interaction.
With trained and skilled observation, play is a powerful form of communication which may express how a child feels and the difficulties they may be experiencing. The relationship between the child and the therapist is central to the treatment.
Everyone is individual and it is impossible to predict how your child will respond to having sessions. Nevertheless it may be helpful to consider the kinds of responses there may be. Some children take to it very easily, finding it a relief to have someone outside the family with whom to talk. Others find it more difficult. Sometimes there is a “honeymoon” period when children attend easily and then suddenly become resistant. Sometimes there is a fairly quick improvement in the behaviour which led to the initial concerns.
It is usual for people attending psychotherapy to have mixed feelings as difficult areas are discussed. Adults in therapy recognise this and this helps carry them over times experienced as painful. Children may not have this perspective and they may need their parents’ or carer’s encouragement to persist.
How long does treatment last?
Interventions with children and parents may be short- or long-term, from as few as two to six sessions to regular appointments over several years. Research has demonstrated the existence of a ‘sleeper effect’, with adults who had been treated as children or young people still feeling its impact many years later.