By Christina Tripodi Mitchell, PsyD, NCSP, Director of Psychological Testing and Evaluation
“Does my child need counseling? When should I begin therapy for my child?”
These are questions that therapists get asked a lot. And the truth is, if you are asking, it is likely already time to seek out support. If a child is experiencing emotional or behavioral problems that are impacting their lives, the earlier you seek treatment, the easier it is generally to treat them. Oftentimes, parents have natural reservations about entering their child into treatment. They may have heard mixed messages from other medical professionals, friends, or family that cause them to hesitate. A potential consequence of this, however, is that by the time therapy is sought out, the issues may have manifested into more complex concerns. The longer these issues present themselves, the harder it is to treat and the duration of therapy will likely be longer.
If avoidable, it is not advisable in any circumstance to wait for a crisis to begin treatment. There are several situations where you should absolutely seek attention immediately, including, for example, in the case of an eating disorder, suicidal ideation, thoughts or actions of self-harm, significant depression, or externalizing behavioral concerns. In these cases, time is of the essence, and treatment success can be enhanced by beginning earlier.
Yet even mild to moderate therapeutic concerns are generally best addressed by beginning therapy earlier. These common referral concerns listed below outline why “watching and waiting” may not always be the best approach:
- Anxiety: By identifying the underlying type and causes of anxiety, a mental health professional will be able to make suggestions for intervention at the get-go, including a plan to combat the anxiety.
- Depression: It is generally easier to intervene in the treatment of depression when it is caught earlier on and a child is more open to therapeutic supports that involve behavioral activation, e.g., helping them to seek out opportunities to connect and engage.
- School Problems: If your child is experiencing a learning or behavioral concern that has begun to impact their school performance, or is keeping them from learning, seeking-out an assessment and intervention immediately will have a better outcome in the short and long term. Once the problem is identified, an intervention tailored to the concerns can be crafted to support your child, which can generally be implemented immediately in the home and school settings.
If you still have questions about whether therapy might be the next best step, be assured that most mental health practitioners will conduct a thorough intake evaluation or consultation that will help assess whether therapy is appropriate for your main concern.
Given the current situation with the pandemic and virtual schooling, many child therapists are overwhelmed by the need for care. This is why we encourage you to seek care before a situation becomes acute. If our therapists are booked when you contact us, we encourage you to add your name to the waitlist. We do contact potential patients as soon as therapists are available based on the date you are added to the list.
In the meantime, we encourage you to sign up for our newsletter to be notified of upcoming parenting programs and to view the events section of our newsletter to access recorded webinars geared to parents. We can provide you with referrals to other child therapists in the area, but unfortunately, the pandemic has heightened the demand for care across the board and many of our colleagues have waiting lists as well. If you or your child is in crisis, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.