How Do I Find a Therapist for My Child?
If you haven't already checked out our recent blog post "Could My Child Benefit From Therapy?", please follow this link to give it a read before digging into this newest post.
Okay, whew, this is a really big decision. Making the choice to find some extra support for your little one can feel both exciting and scary, as well as a tad overwhelming. I mean, where are you even supposed to start? In this post we will cover the basics of how to go about finding a therapist that will be a great fit for your child and your family.
1. Finding a therapist starts like most other processes … The first step is research.
One helpful starting point is speaking with your child’s pediatrician, school counselor (otherwise known as guidance counselor), or teacher. Oftentimes they can recommend a therapist that they have worked with in the past or perhaps they know of a therapist who has an expertise in the area of support that you are looking for.
Another option is to ask around amongst your family, friends, co-workers, and other parents. Do you keep hearing the same name come up in multiple places? Is there someone who seems to have a really great reputation in the community? If so, that's another great place to start.
Check out the websites or professional profiles of therapists that you might be interested in working with. If they don't have their own website, you might be able to find them on a directory like Therapy Den, Psychology Today, or Open Path Collective.
2. Know that your child’s trust and rapport with their therapist is the foundation of success in therapy.
While a therapist's education and credentials are obviously important things to consider when selecting the right therapist for your family, there is often a certain "je ne sais quoi" aspect to finding a great fit. Rapport, connection, a sense of acceptance, and trust are extremely important.
When looking for a therapist for your child, think of the adults that they connect with now. What are those people’s personal qualities? For example, does your child really like their new teacher because she seems really silly and energetic? Or does your child seem to respond well to adults that are more calm and mellow?
Can you tell by the potential therapist's website or profile that they seem to understand what your family is going through and what you as a parent are struggling with? Ideally you will be able ot find a therapist that not only connects with your child, but also really "gets it" and can connect with the whole family system.
3. Be prepared for “screening calls.”
Therapists want to ensure that they are a good fit for your family and that their expertise and skills will be a good match for your child's needs. Before the first appointment they may schedule a short phone consultation to ask about your concerns and what you are hoping for your child and family to get out of the therapy process. Be prepared to tell them a little about your child's personality and what things you feel the most concerned about.
This call is also an excellent opportunity for you to ask questions about the therapist and their approach to working with children as well, so don't be shy! Therapists are used to talking about their work and should be able to tell you a bit about what sessions with them will look like.
4. What if I find an amazing therapist but our schedules don't line up or they don't take my insurance?
It is fairly common for therapists to be completely booked up during those precious "after school" hours, so you may have to get creative with scheduling. Some parents bring their child to sessions before school, on their lunch / recess break, on "early release" days, during their non-acadecmic periods, or during a part of the day in which their child is already excelling. Oftentime parents will alternate weeks, taking their child in late one week and then signing their children out early on the opposite week. You can likely coordinate with the therapist and school counselor to come up with a schedule that works for everyone.
Understandably, you want to find a therapist that is within your family's budget to work with. Many therapists do take insurance; however, it is possible that you'll find a great fit for your family that does not take your insurance. This does not have to be a "deal breaker," and in fact you might find that the cost of seeing a therapist who is out-of-network (versus in-network) with your insurance provider isn't actually all that different.
Although scheduling and finances are definitely important things to take into consideration, remember that finding a "great fit" therapist for your child and family is truly worth the investment of time, finances, and energy in the long run.
5. How do I tell my child that he/she/they will be going to see a therapist?
While many children have never heard of "therapy" or "counseling" specifically, going to see an adult for help with something isn't a brand new idea to them! They are likely already familiar with other helping professionals ... like doctors, dentists, teachers, coaches, clergy members, hairdressers, etc ... and you can use that familiarity to explain exactly what a therapist does.
Much like a child would see a dentist to keep their teeth healthy and a doctor to keep their body healthy, they can talk with a therapist to help them keep their mind and feelings healthy. They can also see a therapist to help them learn new social skills and coping skills, just like a soccer coach or a piano instructor teaches them new things during practices and lessons. In fact, these ideas are so familiar to kids that I once had a young client call me his "anxiety coach" because he connected learning with me to how he learns from his football coach.
I hope this was helpful in explaining the "next steps" to finding a therapist for your child. In my next post in this blog series (linked here), we will talk about what to expect for your child's first therapy session.
Stay tuned and take care!
Kelly Jean Tucker is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor and child therapist in Asheville, NC. She provides individual therapy to children ages 3-11 and additionally provides support and guidances to parents as well. You can learn more about Kelly Jean here.