The decision of when and where to start your child in counseling can be a difficult one. There are so many thoughts, fears, and factors involved.
You may be asking yourself:
- Am I over reacting? Maybe I am making too big of a deal about…….
- Am I under reacting? Is counseling going to be enough? should I take the to the hospital instead?
- What message will they get if I tell them they have to talk to a therapist?
- Will this make things worse?
- What will our family say, or our friends think if they learn that they are in counseling?
- How do I know its a good counselor or not?
- Does this mean I failed as a parent?
Your worries are understandable. You love your child and you only want the best for them. Sometimes the best things for them is another set of eyes and hands on the situation. When your child has a cold, you likely deal with it at home and make small changes until they are better. That’s normal. But when your child has something more then that you call your doctor. You take them in, you talk about symptoms and treatments and come up with a plan on how to help them get better.
This also works with your child’s emotional health. When they are sad because their favorite toy broke or get into a fight with a friend you help them work through it. You teach them the life skills they need to handle their emotions and future sitautions. BUT, when you find them getting sad, mad, scared too often and their struggles are outside of your scope of understanding it is ok to call in reinforcements and get a little help working through this. That is exactly when counseling comes in.
*Please keep in mind if you child is ever saying that they want to harm themselves or someone else and has a plan or means, call Crisis or go to the hospital FIRST. When it comes to life and safety overreacting is always better then underreacting.
A roadmap for your child’s counseling journey
If you have decided to take that first step towards starting counseling for your child and are thinking about reaching out to Angelus to help you with that we would like to say Thank You. We are looking forward to meeting you and your child. As you prepare your child for their first appointment, we have assembled some information of the typical counseling process and some suggestions on how to get the most out of therapy at Angelus. Please feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns you may have.
Laying a foundation: what will counseling look like and how do I explain counseling to my child?
Counseling is meant to help your child gain control over thoughts and emotions. Together, your child and therapist will work to address emotions, physical sensations, and thoughts that are causing disruption in their everyday life. You’re probably thinking, “well how do I explain to my child who is from ages 3-12 where they are going?” Some parents have explained to the child that they are going to talk to a “feelings doctor” or a “teacher of emotions.” It can be helpful to let them know that it is someone who is there to listen to and help them and is not there to take sides or judge/criticize them.
Please Please Please, let your child know that going to counseling is NOT a punishment, it’s an opportunity for growth and improvement and that this person is going to work to make therapy fun. When child counseling is presented as something that only happens to bad kids or when your child is in trouble it can make it very difficult to develop a therapeutic relationship where your child can thrive.
Your child will start meeting with their therapist weekly, anywhere between 30 to 55 minutes (depending on their attention span and engagement.) After your child has reached a strong foundation in treatment the therapist can start decreasing sessions to biweekly until all goals are met.
In the initial treatment process, we encourage you and the child to explore what successful completion would look like. What would you like to see change? Some parents/clients would like help in regulating emotions, gaining coping skills or becoming more social. These are important elements to include in their treatment plan. The therapist will review this treatment plan every three months to make sure they are making progress.
Preparing yourself as the parent/ guardian for your child’s counseling:
One of the things that is most important during this process is developing your own realistic expectations of what changes and progress may look like. Although your child is undoubtedly very smart and resourceful, they are still a child. Which means that their brains and bodies are a work in progress that is in a constant state of growth. They are learning now how to lay down roads & paths that they will follow for the rest of their lives. But many of the needed on-ramps and off-ramps are still in a state of construction. It can get very frustrating as a parent to clearly see how a child’s behaviors could/should be easily shifted and watch it not happen. Have patience, it may seem at times like you are just bringing your child in ‘to play’ and ‘do art’ but that is HOW they LEARN. That is how we connect and help them make connections to their own thoughts, feelings and actions. This is how change in a child starts. Please help us by encouraging the process and doing some of your own playing with them in between sessions to further normalize the process.
GETTING STARTED WITH THERAPY:
YOUR SESSION-BY-SESSION BREAKDOWN
When you first reach out to Angelus to schedule your appointment, either by phone or from completing our intake request form. You will receive a call from our Client Care team to discuss your needs and goals for therapy with your child. After that call you will receive a link to your child’s patient portal where you can complete their opening paperwork and background assessments. This paperwork takes an average of 20-30 min to complete. We ask all new clients to try to complete this paperwork within 48 hours (about 2 days) of receiving this link and to read things thoroughly (as we know lots of the info is very boring, but it is valuable information about how our practice runs and the ins and outs of your journey at our office). Please keep in mind that we will be unable to schedule an intake appointment until AFTER the forms in your portal are completed. This helps ensure that we can match your child with the best therapist for them and will give the therapist a chance to review your child’s information and better prepare for the first appointment. This saves valuable time during that first appointment that is better focused on what they need rather than on paperwork details.
*An important detail to keep in mind is if your child is under the age of 14 and there are any custody orders on file that any parent listed as having shared or full legal/ medical custody will need to consent to your child’s participation in counseling. We help simplify the process with setting each parent up with their own patient portal that will link back to your child but allow you each privacy and connection with the therapeutic process.
This will be your child’s official “intake” appointment. Depending on your child’s age, most parents attend this first appointment, but this is not mandatory. With most of the opening paperwork out of the way, this initial session will include meeting with the therapist to review in more detail what your child is struggling with. Then the therapist will begin to structure the counseling relationship as well as discussing the details of informed consent in counseling. The therapist will explore your child’s past/current family history, medical/mental health struggles, and current supports or stressors.
In the next few sessions your child will work with the therapist on building trust and rapport. Often times this will include, play, therapeutic games, art projects or workbooks to begin exploring current coping skills. It is very natural during this early part of treatment for your child to be guarded and unsure about the counseling process. They are starting to share very personal information with an unknown person. Resistance will happen if the therapist dives too deep to fast. Please keep in mind that it can often take 4-5 sessions depending on the child for them to develop a strong connection and shared understanding with therapist.
After a comfortable foundation has been laid between your child and the therapist the process of change can begin to start. The therapist will help the child develop coping skills and give them a comfortable place to talk through their emotions. This will allow them to start making significant changes in the way they think, act and respond. Remember, it is up to the child to use these skills, the therapist is only there to guide, teach and support them through this change not “fix” the problem that led them to counseling. Having that as an expectation will make you and them frustrated and disappointed. There is a lot of “work” involved in the counseling process that happens between appointments. There are skills to learn, communication methods to practice, boundaries to set, and lifelong patterns to change.
The wind down process:
At Angelus, we believe that the ultimate goal of therapy is to get to the point where your child does not need to come in anymore. This is because they genuinely feel better and have met their goals. We see it as our mission to work ourselves out of a job by empowering your child to manage the traumas, triggers, and stressors in a healthier way. Through the process of treatment, your child will likely step down from a weekly frequency once there is a consistent decrease in symptoms. This can vary from every 2 weeks down to every 6 weeks depending on their comfort level and needs.
Ending the therapy process:
As the ultimate goal of counseling is to “feel better” there will be an eventual process of deciding when they have reached the best time to close. This is an accomplishment and it should be celebrated. However, for some we have found that the idea of closing can be difficult. The support your child gets in counseling is different from other areas of their life and it is at times hard to let go of. We will be there to help prepare them for this shift and connect them to natural supports. Their last few sessions will focus on reinforcing their gains and developing a follow-up plan for maintaining their growth after the formal treatment process has ended.
“TUNE UP” Sessions:
(As needed) In the counseling process, we sometimes need check in sessions after the completion of the “official” treatment process. This is not unusual and is not a failure in treatment. It is much like the process of taking your car in for a yearly tune-up or oil change to address the normal wear and tear it acquires by driving in Western Pennsylvania weather. This can simply be a way station to keep everything aligned and running smoothly and may only last two to three sessions.