Among the many responsibilities of being a parent is the job of helping your child to manage their mental health. This can be a challenging task as mental health can be more difficult to assess than physical health, especially in young people. Children may be irritable when depressed, or you may wonder if your teenager’s sullen, moody behaviour is just a stage or something more. Here are some frequently asked questions around whether psychological therapy may help and when:
How can I tell if my child needs a psychologist?
Taking children to the doctor can be straightforward. For example, if your child falls and you suspect a broken arm you take them to have it checked. Mental health difficulties can develop slowly, may wax and wane depending on stress levels, and may be clouded by other factors. It’s also important to remember that what is objectively occurring in your child’s life may not be an accurate indicator of whether they would benefit from therapy. For example, your child could be experiencing a difficult transition (like family separation) but be adjusting quite well. Or your child may appear to be handling things well from the outside but internally living with significant anxiety. Asking your child about their wellbeing is one direct way to gauge how they are coping and if they would like assistance. Here are some additional indicators that might suggest your child would benefit from psychological therapy:
- Their mood seems consistently low
- Talk about self-harm or suicide
- You notice harsh self-talk (e.g., talking about being stupid, blaming themselves excessively)
- Difficulty managing emotions (beyond typical developmental difficulties)
- Your child seems withdrawn and isolates themselves
- Changes in patterns — sleeping more or less, eating or weight changes, reduced engagement in enjoyed activities
- Your child has been through a difficult event or transition and is struggling
- Your child is having difficulties in their relationships
- Your child’s functioning has reduced or is problematic (e.g., trouble completing tasks at home, school, or leisure activities)
- Difficulties with self-care and organisation exist
- Something feels ‘off,’ and your child does not seem themselves
- They ask for mental-health support
It is worth noting that psychologists will assess and advise on your child’s needs for therapy. Goals and approximate number of sessions needed are discussed early in therapy to help provide the best support for your child.
When should I take my child to a psychologist?
If you’ve recognised your child is struggling, you might wonder when you should take them to see a psychologist. Whilst you don’t want to take your child for therapy at the first sign of any mild difficulties, it is advisable not to wait until the symptoms become severe. Once symptoms are severe it can be more difficult to build coping skills and change patterns. Psychologists assist people from all sorts of backgrounds with lots of different presenting issues. Your child does not need to fit a formal diagnosis to receive help, and they may just be struggling with a rough patch and want to connect with an empathetic and trained individual who is not directly involved in their life.
Should my child be a certain age to engage in psychological therapy?
Psychological therapy can be useful for individuals across the lifespan, meaning there is no ‘right’ age that a child will be ready for therapy. We have psychologists who will conduct and adapt therapy to fit the age of the child. For younger children, activities and language will be suited to their age, and parental involvement will be more extensive. While therapy can be conducted at different ages it is worth noting that you should consider age-related behaviours. For example, all toddlers will have some difficulties with emotion regulation due to their developmental stage. Therapy may only be worthwhile if your child’s behaviour is significantly more severe than what is to be expected for that age, or if your family as a whole is struggling with it. Lags in development may be one reason to consider therapy.
Age and maturity level may be worth considering if certain therapy goals or techniques are desired. For example, strategies that involve reflection and identifying thought patterns can be difficult to deliver if children do not have the cognitive level to engage. Children may be supported in other ways, and parents may have more of a role in the therapy process in such cases.
When should I bring my child in for therapy if they have reservations about attending?
Another factor to consider regarding when therapy should be conducted is client engagement. Whilst psychologists are trained in delivering evidence-based therapy, therapy has limited effect if the client is significantly resistant. If your young person is still not sure there is a problem or whether they want to change, then it may not be worth pursuing therapy.
Having said this, it is not uncommon for young people to have mixed feelings about therapy and some clients that start off as very hesitant to engage can still benefit from therapy. Psychologists can work on gently boosting desire to engage and on building rapport to make your child feel comfortable.
If your child does not engage well or refuses to attend at all, there is the option of seeking therapy yourself for advice on supporting your child. Finding a good match in therapist for your child’s personality also helps.
In conclusion, it is not always easy to pinpoint when a child should see a psychologist. Psychological therapy may help for a range of mental health difficulties, across various ages and severity levels. If your child is struggling, then this may be a good time to reach out for support. Please call us on (07) 3857 0074 if you are interested in booking your child in with a psychologist.
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