How to find a child therapist
When looking for a child therapist, your child's pediatrician is a wise and safe place to begin, family therapist Fran Walfish says. Most of her patients are referred to her by their physicians. “You can also reach out to a trusted school professional and other parents you trust who will not judge you,” says Walfish, author of “The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child” (Palgrave Macmillan).
The next steps:
• Get the names of three or four therapists and conduct brief get-to-know-you interviews with each one via phone.
“If you pick up anything on the phone that gives you a sense that the person is judgmental or cold or harsh or impatient — anything negative — as fast as you can, cross them off your list,” she says. “Kids are growing rapidly, and we don't have time to waste.”
• Once you've decided on one or two you like, meet with them in person before you schedule an appointment for your child. Tell them what you're hoping your child will gain from therapy, and ask about their approach. Find out how much they share with you about your child's sessions.
“The boundaries of confidentiality vary from therapist to therapist,” Walfish says. “I feel strongly that a 9-year-old's therapy must be shared with the parents because I need the parents as partners, so we can align to provide the best and fastest way to create change for this child, so that he or she has a better shot at navigating an improved future.”
Other therapists confide in parents only if a child is in danger of hurting himself, herself or another person. Everything else the child says is confidential.
• Once you've decided on a provider, introduce the idea to your child gently. Walfish suggests: “In our family, we want everyone to be happy. We met a lady named Fran — don't say Dr. So and So — and her job is to play games and talk to moms and dads and kids and help them figure out how to be happier at home and at school. And we'd never send you to a lady named Fran without checking her out first, so we met her and she seemed great. She has toys and artwork and games and M&M's and she's very nice. So, you'll go Tuesday and check her out, too.”
“Present it as an opportunity for her or him to evaluate the therapist,” Walfish says. “Give your child a voice.”