It can be heartbreaking and distressing when you have a child experiencing a mental health challenge. If you are here because you’ve been surfing the web for a “child therapist near me,” you should know that simply taking that first step is an enormous win for both your child and yourself. It means that your child is one step closer to feeling more like themselves again and learning how to cope with their feelings.
You should also know that you aren’t alone. Over the past decade or so, mental health crises in children have increased substantially. These days, about 20% of children and teens experience mental health or behavioral disorders. Between 2016 and 2018, the rate of ER visits for mental health issues among children spiked by 25%, and in the decade preceding 2019, suicidal behaviors among teens rose more than 40%.
But there’s hope. Connecting with a child psychologist can give your child the gift of compassionate, empowering, evidence-based care to help manage their difficult thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Why Do Kids and Teens Need Therapy?
There are many reasons why a child or teen might need therapy, and there are no “right” or “wrong” reasons for seeking therapy. Simply feeling that your child is struggling and that you’d like some guidance and support is reason enough to begin therapy.
But if you’ve been searching for a “child therapist near me,” you are likely wondering what type of symptoms children and teens who start therapy may be experiencing. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons kids and adolescents may need therapy.
Issues of Concern in Younger Children
- Increased tantrums
- Frequently seeming moody and irritated
- Fixated on various fears and worries
- Increase in stomachaches or other digestive issues without a clear medical cause
- Increase in headaches
- Always moving, trouble sitting still, high energy
- Sleep changes, such as sleeping more than usual or less than usual
- Increased bad dreams or nightmares
- Trouble making friends or seeming less interested in socializing than other kids their age
- Issues at school, including academic or behavioral issues
- Obsessive “checking” behaviors, and believing something bad with happen if they don’t repeat these “checks” frequently
Warning Signs in Older Kids and Teen
- Decreased interest in activities they previously enjoyed
- Sleep changes, including too much or too little sleep
- Low energy or seeming sleepier than usual
- Increased desire to isolate from others
- Wanting to avoid socializing with family or friends
- Fixation on eating, dieting, exercising, or losing weight
- Self-harm behaviors, such as cutting or burning of skin
- Increased drinking, smoking, or drug usage
- Suicidal thoughts or increased talk about suicide
- Participating in risky behaviors
- Severe mood swings
- Periods of intense, high energy, often combined with sleeping less
- Signs of delusions or hallucinations, which may include hearing voices or believing that someone or some force is telling them what to think or do
Sometimes troubling behavior in a child is normal, a part of their development, but other times, it’s a signal that something else is going on. This is especially true when these behaviors last for more than a week or two, and if they impact your child’s ability to function well at home or school.
What Are Common Child Behavior Problems?
It’s normal for children to test boundaries, argue with their parents or guardians, or even appear angry or explosive at times. But when these behaviors are more intense than normal, when they last for long periods of time, and when they become difficult for parents, teachers, or caregivers to manage, a child may be diagnosed with a behavioral disorder.
It’s not clear why some children develop behavioral disorders while others don’t, and it’s common to want to blame yourself for what is going on. It’s important to understand that behavioral disorders occur because of many factors that usually converge all at once, including heredity, environmental factors, and social factors. The two most common behavioral disorders in children are oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
Oppositional defiant disorder is characterized by challenges with controlling one’s emotions and behaviors. Children with ODD often have extremely angry moods, are easily irritated, are quick to argue, and may even act vindictively toward others. About 2-11% of children experience ODD, and it’s more common in pre-teen boys than girls.
Conduct Disorder (CD)
Children with conduct disorder (CD) often exhibit extreme aggression toward others and violations of others’ rights and boundaries. These aggressive behaviors may be directed toward other people or animals, and may include the destruction of property. Those with CD often have other psychiatric diagnoses, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning differences, or depression. CD is four times more common in boys than girls, and 2-10% of people may be diagnosed with CD in their lifetime.
It can be extremely stressful to parent a child with a behavioral disorder, and you may find yourself experiencing intense feelings yourself, like anger, stress, and confusion. Thankfully, there are many effective treatments for these disorders, and an experienced child behavioral therapist or pediatric counselor can help you navigate options and find workable solutions.
What Problems Do Therapists Help With?
If you’re searching for a “child therapist near me,” you may already suspect that your child needs expert help and support, but you might still feel unclear about what type of problems pediatric therapists or teen psychologists can help with. The thing to remember about therapy is that you don’t have to know for sure what your child’s exact diagnosis is. You don’t even have to know for sure that your child has a mental health condition—if your parental instincts tell you that your child needs support, that’s enough to connect with a therapist and consider child counseling.
That said, you should know that child therapists can help with most mental health conditions that children experience. If your loved one’s condition is outside of a children's therapist’s expertise, they can refer you to the appropriate mental health specialist. If psychiatric medication is required, they will refer you to a psychiatrist, the mental health providers able to prescribe medication.
Some of the mental health problems and conditions that child therapists treat include:
- Experiencing conflicts or challenges within a family, at school, or in a child’s social life
- Experiencing bullying, a medical crisis, a major life transition, a divorce, or the death of a loved one
- Witnessing a natural disaster, experiencing a major accident, or any other type of life-changing trauma
- Having intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, grief, low self-image, ruminating thoughts, or anger
- Having trouble sleeping, trouble eating, stomachaches, digestive issues, or headaches without a known medical cause
- Experiencing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, attention-deficit disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, behavioral disorders, or trauma disorders like PTSD
How Does Therapy for Children and Adolescents Work?
Therapy for children and adolescents can take place at a therapist’s office or virtually. Often, virtual therapy works better for older children and teens, and younger children benefit more from in-person therapy—though both are viable options for either age group.
When therapy involves younger children, it’s common for a parent or guardian to play a larger role. Often, a therapist will meet with a child, with a parent or family and the child, or just with the parents. Sometimes a combination of all of these scenarios will occur. The therapist may also wish to be in touch with your child’s teacher, school counselor, or other family members.
Therapy for older children and teens sometimes involve sessions where both parents and kids are present, but it’s more likely the sessions will occur with just the teen and the therapist. Sometimes the therapist will also coordinate with other parties—such as a learning specialist, teacher, or school administrator—to ensure that everyone is working together as a team to support your child.
Sessions for adolescents and young adults usually start with a period of getting to know the child, with questions about interests, social life, school life, and general health and wellness. It’s common for older children to feel guarded about discussing their feelings, and therapists employ gentle ways of helping them feel at ease and more open to sharing their feelings.
What Happens in Therapy?
What happens in therapy depends on your child’s unique challenges, the type of therapy that your child’s therapist specializes in, your child’s age, and what your goals are for your child during therapy. It’s important that you define what your goals are before beginning therapy, though these goals may continue to be refined and redefined as you and your child make progress.
Therapy for young children may involve:
- Playing with toys while the therapist observes
- Making art together with a therapist
- Playing card or board games with a therapist
- Talking with the therapist
- Having the child interact with their parent while the therapist observes
- Conversations involving both parents, child, and therapists
Therapy for older children and teens may look like:
- Talking about feelings, and how your child’s thoughts, beliefs, actions, and choices affect their feelings
- Helping to find the words to describe and name difficult feelings
- Helping your child define their identity, self-image, and fostering positive and compassionate self-talk
- Learning what emotions, thoughts, and fears might mean for your child, and helping both parents/caregivers and children navigate those sometimes tumultuous waters
- Learning techniques—such as meditation, mindfulness, breathing, journaling, and therapeutic movement exercises—to manage challenging feelings,
- Helping your child find solutions to common problems and struggles—at home, at school, and in their social life
- Helping your family understand which behaviors and emotional states constitute a mental health crisis, and when to seek care outside of the therapy setting, such as emergency medical or psychiatric care
Types of Therapy for Children and Adolescents
Child therapists are usually trained in one or more specialties. Often, therapists employ several different types of therapy, depending on the child’s needs, challenges, and what a family’s goals are for therapy. There are many different types of therapy for children and adolescents and if you’re been scouring the net for a “child therapist near me,” you’re probably wondering what therapy styles are available for your child.
Handspring focuses on two main kinds of therapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Behavioral Parent Training (BPT). Both of these treatment types utilize a strengths-based and child-centered approach, and focus on solving problems in the short term, while empowering children and their parents with life-long mental coping skills.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavior therapy teaches children and teens how to become more mindful of their thoughts and thought patterns and how these impact their feelings and behaviors. CBT is one of the most effective, evidence-based treatments used to treat a wide range of conditions in children, such as depression, anxiety, behavioral conditions, habit disorders, and social issues. Skills taught during CBT can equip children to deal with challenges even years down the road.
Behavioral Parent Training
Behavioral parent training is a therapy type used to manage disruptive behavior in children and teens. Parents play a large role in this type of therapy and are taught various techniques for managing their children’s challenging behavior. These techniques are modeled by therapists and then role played with parents, which helps parents to feel empowered to use these skills in real life situations. Therapists also work with children to help them understand the causes of their behavioral issues and to offer them skills for managing these difficulties.
There are many other different types of child therapy available as well. Some of these include:
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Gives children and teens the tools to understand and accept their feelings, challenges, and struggles.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Often used in older children and teens who struggle with suicidal thoughts, self-harm, or who have a condition called borderline personality disorder (BPD). DBT often involves both individual therapy sessions, as well as group therapy, and focuses on taking responsibility for behaviors and tools for managing conflicts and overpowering emotions.
- Family Therapy or Family Counseling
Family therapists or family counselors look at the household as a whole and help explore ways to strengthen communication, understanding, and support. Usually parents and children are present, but siblings and even grandparents might join therapy sessions.
- Group Therapy
In this therapy type, multiple patients meet together with a therapist or a therapist team. This approach allows children and adolescents to work on social skills, interactions with peers, and to build a support network with other children their age or who deal with overlapping issues.
- Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)
IPT is used to treat depression and other mental health challenges. It’s usually a short-term treatment, and zeroes in on how interpersonal experiences impact emotions.
- Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)
This therapy type involves a therapist watching parents and children interact and offers tactics that can help create more positive communication between them.
- Play Therapy
Because it’s not always easy for young children to articulate how they are feeling, play therapy engages children in familiar activities to help the therapist understand and observe what is going on with or what challenges a child might face. These activities may include playing with toys, cards and board games, or doing artwork together. Through play and conversation, therapists help children verbalize how they are feeling, help them cope with challenging feelings, and teach them tools for managing behavior.
- Psychodynamic Psychotherapy
A form of psychoanalysis for children, this therapy style focuses on understanding the motivating factors behind a child’s thoughts, feelings, and behavioral patterns.
Functions of Therapy
Parents who are searching for a “child therapist near me” probably also want to know exactly how therapy will benefit their children, and whether or not therapy for children can be effective.
First, it’s important to understand that therapy is not meant to “fix” a child’s mental health issues overnight. Working through mental health challenges is complicated, nuanced, and can take time. Still, therapy is known to be a highly effective way to manage a child’s symptoms, improve their quality of life, and help them function in a more balanced and healthy manner at home, at school, and socially.
Cognitive behavioral therapy in particular is a powerful tool for helping children deal with challenges. For example, a meta-analysis review found that cognitive behavioral therapy is highly effective at treating various mental health conditions children struggle with, including anxiety disorders, eating disorders, stress, and anger management. Additionally, a clinical trial found that cognitive behavioral therapy can decrease anxiety in children by 50-60%, and with long-term impacts. Other therapy types used for children offer similarly promising, evidence-based results.
It’s also important to understand that sometimes therapy for children, teenagers, and young adults needs to be combined with other approaches to be most effective. Sometimes medication, in conjunction with therapy, will be the most effective way to manage a child’s symptoms. Psychiatrists can prescribe appropriate medications and will work alongside your child’s therapist to ensure the best possible care for your child.
How Can Parents Help in Their Child’s Therapeutic Journey?
Just by searching for a “child therapist near me,” you are making positive strides toward better mental health for your child. These proactive steps show that you care deeply about your child’s mental and emotional well-being and that you’ve made the brave decision to seek help. You know that it takes a village to raise a child and that you can’t always do this alone, especially when your child is struggling.
Besides finding a licensed therapist for their child, many parents are looking for concrete steps to help their child. Here are few ideas to help your child as you start searching for therapy solutions:
- Talk with your child’s teachers, pediatrician, and other caregivers to better understand what your child is struggling with and get their input to brainstorm ways of helping your child.
- Make time in your schedule to take your child to therapy appointments, and be patient as the process unfolds.
- Ask your child’s therapist questions along the way, and discuss what you are seeing at home with your child as they move through their therapeutic journey.
- Carve out time in your life to spend quality time with your child; be guided by your child’s interest, and, in whatever activity you are engaging in, give your child your undivided attention.
- Try to parent your child with grace, patience, kindness, and forgiveness.
- If you are struggling with your own mental health, don’t push that to the wayside; for your own best interests, and those of your child, get help for any mental health challenges you may be experiencing. Know that a child’s struggles can be extremely taxing on a parent or caregiver.
How Long Do Kids Typically Spend in Therapy?
The length of time that children typically spend in therapy depends on the child, what issues that are dealing with, the type of therapeutic approach, your goals for your child, and how therapy progresses over time. Sometimes, therapy may have a fixed number of sessions, as your child moves through a particular program. Most of the time, however, therapy for children lasts between a few weeks, a few months, and sometimes a few years.
How to Find a “Child Therapist Near Me”
As you begin the search for a therapist, you might feel overwhelmed and uncertain how to proceed. That’s normal and okay, but there are steps you can take to make this process easier.
First, it’s often recommended that you meet with your child’s pediatrician. They can offer insight into what may be going on with your child, and help you rule out any medical issues that may be causing or contributing to your child’s symptoms.
You can also call your insurance company to get a list of providers that are covered. Keep in mind that sometimes therapists covered by insurance are limited, and these therapists don’t always have immediate openings. If you are looking for further help finding a therapist, consider reaching out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit SAMHA’s online therapist locator.
Once you have a list of potential therapists, you should contact them for a brief conversation or initial consultation. It’s important that both you and your child find someone you feel comfortable with and who makes you feel safe and well cared for.
- What is your training and expertise?
- What treatment types do you use?
- To what extent are parents involved?
- What happens during a therapy session?
- How long is treatment expected to last?
- What will the goals of the treatment be?
- When can I expect my child to show signs of improvement?
How Handspring Therapists Can Help
Handspring offers highly trained, fully accredited and licensed therapists who have expertise in helping children with conditions like clinical depression, anxiety, panic disorders, behavioral diagnosis, OCD, trauma, grief, and personality disorders. They can help children who are experiencing excessive worry, sleep issues, bullying, sadness and depression, anger management issues, and coping with life transitions and stressors.
At Handspring, therapists believe in working closely and collaboratively with parents and children. “Parents and/or caregivers are partners in their child’s therapy,” says Amy Kranzler, PhD, Head of Clinical Services at Handspring. “It is important that they understand both the goals of therapy and what their child is learning to work towards those goals, so that they can help their child practice new skills between sessions.” Often, over the course of therapy, parents will develop new skills themselves that they can apply at home to improve their relationship with their child, Kranzler adds.
When their child is suffering, many parents’ or guardians' first instinct is to search for a “child therapist near me.” Recognizing when it is time to seek help and where to turn for that help is no easy task, but fortunately there are proven treatment options available. To get help for a child who is struggling, start with a free consultation from a licensed Handspring Health therapist.
- 2022 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report [Internet]. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2022 Oct. CHILD AND ADOLESCENT MENTAL HEALTH.
- Aggarwal A, Marwaha R. Oppositional Defiant Disorder. [Updated 2022 Sep 19]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-.
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Psychotherapy for Children and Adolescents: Different Types.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Behavior or Conduct Problems in Children.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Therapy to Improve Children’s Mental Health.
- Hofmann SG, Asnaani A, Vonk IJ, Sawyer AT, Fang A. The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses. Cognit Ther Res. 2012 Oct 1;36(5):427-440. doi: 10.1007/s10608-012-9476-1. Epub 2012 Jul 31. PMID: 23459093; PMCID: PMC3584580.
- Kodal A, Fjermestad K, Bjelland I, et al. Long-term effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy for youth with anxiety disorders. J Anxiety Disord. 2018;53:58-67. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2017.11.003.
- Mohan L, Yilanli M, Ray S. Conduct Disorder. [Updated 2023 Mar 13]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-.
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIH). Child and Adolescent Mental Health.
- Nemurs Kids Health. Taking Your Child to a Therapist.
- Neumurs Teen Health. Going to a Therapist.