If you’ve decided that seeing a psychologist might be useful for your child, then you may be wondering how to bring up the topic. Broaching the topic of therapy for the first time can seem overwhelming, but with some discussion and planning you can help successfully introduce your child to a psychologist. Read on for some tips, and if you are still considering whether it’s time to take your child to a psychologist then check out our blog on that topic.
If you have booked your child in for therapy, then it’s important your young person understands the nature of the appointment. The language and explanation you give will differ depending on the age of your child, but you want to make clear that it’s a psychology appointment and describe what psychologists do. Here is an example you might use with younger children.
Psychologists help people when they have tricky feelings or problems. We’re going to see a psychologist and they will help you learn how to talk about and cope with feelings. I thought this might be useful since you have been talking about some big worries lately.
Depending on the age of the child it is important to talk about their feelings about seeing a psychologist. Some children and teens have positive views towards therapy and may even ask to attend, whereas others have reservations. Giving your child choice in the process is a positive start. Some choices you may provide include:
- Letting your child directly tell the GP and psychologist what the reason for seeking help is.
- What they believe the focus of the therapy should be (this can be discussed with the therapist too).
- The age/gender/personality of the psychologist they see (though try to encourage an open mind as availability may limit options). Remind your young person that psychologists are trained to connect with people of all ages and backgrounds, and that personality fit may be more important than age.
- Depending on the age and situation you may want to offer choice around how much you are involved in the process. For example, some teens prefer to only speak to the psychologist themselves, whereas others like parents to sit in for some of the first session to help them feel at ease.
- Discuss how much your child would like to share.
Unfortunately, even in modern times there can be feelings of stigma around seeing a psychologist. Teenagers especially can be very sensitive to feeling that they are different or not coping well. If your young person expresses resistance to therapy or indicates that attending would mean there is ‘something wrong with them,’ then do your best to dispel these ideas. Here are some points that could help:
- People see psychologists for a vast range of problems and not everyone who sees a therapist has a diagnosable mental health issue.
- Mental health issues are common and can happen to anyone. The Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing 2013 to 2014 found that over half a million young people aged 4-17 had lived with a mental health disorder within the last year.
- Struggling with mental health is not a sign of weakness.
- The aim of seeing a psychologist is to improve your wellbeing and can help you stay mentally healthy long-term as you learn coping skills.
- Sessions are generally confidential (except for bounds of confidentiality).
- You can search for a psychologist you are comfortable with and connect with.
- Psychologists understand and work with feelings of uncertainty about attending and engaging in therapy
Another way you can destigmatise the process of therapy is to avoid labels. For example, you don’t want to say I’m taking you to therapy because you’re “a worrier,” or “depressed,” or “naughty.” These labels imply that there is something inherent in the person that is the problem. Phrase the reason for therapy as an emotion or behaviour that has been occurring lately and is causing distress. For example, “you’ve seemed really stressed lately,” or, “we’ve been having a lot of fights this year.” Tentative language is best too. No one likes to be told how they’re feeling and if you gently point out that your child seems to be struggling and you’d like them to seek help this approach is more likely to be viewed positively.
Talk about what to expect
When we go to the doctor, we have a model of what to expect. If your child has not seen a mental-health professional before they may feel uneasy about what will happen in the session. Your child’s psychologist will explain the process and go to efforts to ease any anxieties, but here is some information you could share with your child to help them feel prepared:
- In a first session psychologists will spend time gathering information by asking the young person questions and getting to know them. Depending on age and interests a game or activity might occur.
- Sessions are 50 minutes long. This might seem like a long time, but it tends to go quite quickly. Some of the session may be talking with the parent only (depending on age and situation).
- Reassure your child that everything they say won’t be repeated to you (though bounds of confidentiality exist).
- Your child does not have to share information they do not feel ready to disclose.
- Therapy is not all sitting and talking. If your child is younger or feels uncomfortable with sitting and talking, then games and your child’s interests can be used to build rapport and to teach skills/explain concepts.
- Your young person can have input into therapy. Feedback on what is helpful and what could be improved is useful to therapists.
Be realistic and give it time
When you introduce your child to a psychologist it’s important to have realistic expectations. Therapy is a process, and it may take several sessions in therapy before your child feels comfortable, which is essential for progress to be made. Emotions do not work on a strict timeline so avoid excessively asking your child if they feel better as this can create a sense of pressure.
Ensure your child also has a realistic view of therapy. Good psychological therapy is evidenced-based and can have a great impact. However, engaging successfully in therapy often means practising skills and persevering with changes that may be difficult. Help your child to be aware that therapy is a collaborative process.
If you’ve decided to introduce your child to a psychologist then it’s advisable to be transparent and to speak about this step in positive, affirming terms. A brief explanation of what therapy entails and what to expect in the first session may help allay any fears. It’s normal to feel apprehensive when trying something new, especially something like therapy where you may feel be vulnerable. Our team of psychologists work hard to provide a calm and warm environment. Call us on (07) 3857 0074 if your child needs assistance.
How To Introduce Your Child To A Psychologist. When Should A Child See A Psychologist?
When Should I Take My Child To A Psychologist?