A Parent's Guide to Their Child’s Therapy Session
Updated: Mar 20, 2020
Setting your child up to go to therapy can cause you to experience a few different emotions.
Maybe relief that your child is talking to someone, sure! But anxiety, fear, anger, and confusion are also very common. I hope this guide helps you navigate questions you may have for your child's therapist (but maybe don't want to ask!).
““We need to help young people and their parents understand that it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help.” ―Meghan Markle, The Duchess of Cambridge.”
Kids already might have some anxiety about going to therapy. I can confirm that this is normal, and we talk about this anxiety in session. In fact, talking about therapy related anxiety is a great way to start therapy!
Unfortunately, I don't always get the chance to talk to the parents about their anxiety or concerns.
I hope these tips help you answer some questions.
My child wont talk to me at all. Can you tell them....
I am not able to transmit messages to your child, however I never judge a parent for asking me this. You love your child and you want them to communicate their feelings to you. They may have been "shut off" for so long, and now you have this opening... However it does not work that way.
Requests such as, "Please tell them I love them and I only want what's best," or "Please tell them that what they're doing hurts me," are well meaning and I appreciate the intention. This is a hard one to say no to, because I love seeing a parent that cares so much.
If you would like to tell your child something and you feel like you aren't able to, it is best to schedule a family session. If I did deliver a message, it unintentionally creates an alliance between the therapist and the parent. This can be damaging to the trust your child is trying to build with the therapist.
I have so many questions about my child's session. Can I talk to the therapist?
Yes! Please ask questions! Just be aware that the therapist cannot tell you specifically what your child says. Exceptions to this are if the child is in immediate danger of hurting themselves or someone else.
My child's behavior is really harmful and I am worried about them. It needs to change.
I hear this from parents a lot, and my heart goes out to you. You guys give your love and do the best you can, and I see that.
Behavior change can take time, especially if the behavior is not seen as a problem to the child or if the child has been practicing this behavior for a while. I always say, "You developed this habit for sixteen years, so it may take more than one month to change."
The therapist’s job is not to persuade the child to act or think a certain way (because you know that doesn't work, especially for teens). We are here to reflect negative patterns, provide perspective, and to be a safe place to talk. I do implement behavior change plans of course, which differ significantly based on age group. For younger children, behavior change plans can be more simple because younger children are often more under your control. For older teenagers, they have the capacity to choose their path and hopefully grow and learn from it without hurting themselves too much.
Okay! first session is over! Does that mean my child got to talk about whats bothering them?
Wouldn't that be nice and easy! I would be quite the magical therapist if I had every teenager talking in the first session.
As with most people of any age, trust is built slowly over time. This is especially true with children/ teens. It may take a few sessions before your child talks about feelings or difficult situations. These initial sessions are very important, because I am working on building a rapport with your child. Without this, no work can get done (at least that is my theory).
What do I do when my child gets home from therapy?
Talk about awkward car ride, am I right?
Every child is different with this. It might be helpful to ask what your child needs after a session. It may not be the best idea to immediately ask them what they talked about, or if they feel better. Sometimes therapy feels awful (think: sports massage. Painful but helpful). Ask them if they want space, if they want to talk, or if they want to hang out with you and not talk about anything.
Do I ever get to talk with the therapist?
Yes! I love when parents ask to work with me, because you are the expert on your child.
Parent sessions are very important. Your perspective provides a much-needed look into your child’s world. Many parents ask for these when they see their child using new coping skills that look different from their normal routine. You can ask the therapist the costs and length associated with a parent session, as it differs from clinician to clinician.
Going with your child to a session
Your child's therapist might ask you to come in for a session with your child. This may mean your child has something to tell you. The information you learn in this session may be hard to hear. It is important to stay calm, caring, and supportive.
Children are often extremely sensitive to their parent's reaction when telling them a traumatic or stressful event if their life. Your therapist may offer a parent session after in order for you to talk about how you feel about the information you learned, as well as skills to use in helping your child.
When you help you child get started with therapy, you are helping them learn how to take care of themselves, ask for help, and be comfortable dealing with difficult emotions. Thank you for helping our younger generation be more in touch with themselves.
I sincerely hope that my works provided some clarity for you during. If you have more questions, please reach out to me.
Lahna Segarnick, LCSW-C