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How to Choose the Right Therapist for Your Child


If you’re a parent or guardian considering therapy for your child, it can be quite a perplexing and intricate path at first. It’s vital to understand the importance of seeking proper mental healthcare, understand the different types of therapists and therapy available, and know how to choose the right therapist for your child.

The Importance of Mental Health Care

First, dispel any notion of stigma attached to seeking mental health treatment. This is a dangerous obstacle and must be disregarded. According to the CDC, more than half of children with depression, anxiety, or behavior disorders receive treatment. You are not alone.

Understand, too, that while adults usually choose therapy, for children it is often not a choice. You may face resistance. You should empathize and respect your child’s feelings, but you should also do what is in their best interests.

Make sure your family is open to the idea of therapy. Don’t feel that you should solve all your problems on your own, that it’s embarrassing, that you’re too busy, or that it isn’t worth it.

Understand that sometimes treatment will be a slow journey. There is not a one-size-fits-all path. Patience for both parents and children is important. It’s also important that the parent readily faces any of their own issues that may arise during their child’s course of treatment.

Different Types of Therapists and Therapy

According to the latest stats from the CDC, almost 14% of children, ages 5-17, seek mental health treatment. With the rise of people seeking treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic, this percentage could actually be higher, but more recent research is not yet available. Of these children, most seek help for ADD/ADHD, anxiety, and other behavioral disorders.

No matter the reason you’re seeking or considering therapy for your child, it’s important to understand the different types of therapists available as well as the typical treatments that might be provided.

Types of Therapists

  1. Counselors are marriage and family therapists and licensed professional clinical counselors that have a Master’s degree in counseling. They can analyze and assess behavior, environment, and family dynamics to support a child’s mental health.
  2. Clinical social workers hold a Master’s degree in social work and help children deal with problems at school like bullying or anxiety and also help strengthen family relationships.
  3. Clinical psychologists earn a doctorate degree in psychology, generally work with children that have complex mental health issues, can provide psychological testing, and take a research-based approach to treatment.
  4. Psychiatrists hold a medical degree, meaning that they can prescribe medication for your child. Like clinical psychologists, they treat a variety of mental health disorders and take a research-based, scientific approach to treatment.

Types of Therapy

  1. Play therapy is usually implemented for pre-K and elementary school-age children. It helps a child communicate their feelings and deal with emotions from a stressful or traumatic event.
  2. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of many evidence-based therapies used for ADD/ADHD, mood disorders, phobias, and compulsive behaviors. Your therapist will help your child understand their thoughts, feelings, and actions, and then they will give them the tools to better respond to trigger events or problems in the future.
  3. Group therapy is often utilized for children who have social difficulties or disorders. It helps them learn how to deal with challenges in a social setting along with others who face similar problems and can be a great tool for building confidence.
  4. Family therapy can help family members navigate difficult events like divorce or death. The therapist will help everyone communicate better, express their feelings and thoughts, and strengthen or rebuild these invaluable relationships.

How to Choose the Right Therapist for Your Child

It’s okay if the first therapist you choose isn’t the right fit for your child. Don’t give up. But there are criteria you can look for and questions you should ask that will help you make an informed decision before beginning mental health treatment.

First, if your child has already been diagnosed with a mental or learning disorder, or if they’ve just experienced a traumatic event, ask specific questions related to the potential therapist’s experience in dealing with the disorder or event and how they’ve treated it. Beyond that, here are some general questions you may ask:

  • Are you professionally licensed, and can you provide evidence of your license?
  • What are your credentials, and can you provide references?
  • Do you accept insurance, or what is your hourly rate?
  • Do you have specific training for and experience in working with children with mental health concerns?
  • What types of methods or treatments do you use with children and teens?
  • How often do you meet with parents and provide feedback?
  • Do you involve parents in therapy?
  • How long do children usually stay in therapy?
  • Do you provide a treatment plan?
  • Will you communicate with my child’s teacher or guidance counselor?
  • Do you have after-school hours available now?

Signs of a Good Therapist

  • Your therapist forms a good and productive relationship with your child. The therapist shows genuine interest in and concern for the child and ably engages them if they are reluctant in exploring treatment options.
  • The therapist recognizes your child’s strengths, not just their weaknesses. They separate the issues or disorders from the child and champion your child’s potential.
  • A good therapist understands their role and your role in your child’s life. They know that your relationship is permanent and support the part you play in your child’s growth and development.
  • A good therapist does not blame the child, you, or others for the issues your child faces. Instead, they focus on solutions, actions, and tools that will heal and empower your child on their mental health journey.
  • Your therapist respects and appreciates your culture, ethnicity, and other community aspects that are integral to your child’s life and identity.
  • A good therapist adapts their methods to fit your child’s needs, rather than the other way around.

Choosing a Child Therapist in DC, Northern VA, or NY

The Ross Center provides mental health treatment for children and teens with a variety of research-based therapies. If you are choosing a child therapist in DC, Northern VA, or NY, we encourage you to reach out to us.

Please note, however, that because of the rise in those seeking care as a result of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, many therapists are still facing supply-and-demand issues. That’s why we encourage parents to seek support before their child’s situation becomes critical.

We do maintain an active waitlist. If our therapists are booked when you contact us, please add your name to this list as we contact potential patients as soon as therapists are available based on the date you’re added to the list.

We also encourage you to sign up for our newsletter so that you can be notified of upcoming parenting programs, and view the events section of our newsletter, which gives access to recorded webinars just for parents.

If you or your child is in crisis, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions (SPACE) Screening Form

Thank you for your interest in our SPACE-informed parenting group. Our group is designed to work with parents of children whose primary difficulty is anxiety with related avoidance behavior. Please answer the following questions so that we can gain a better understanding of you and your child.

Rx Refill Request

Please be advised that the turnaround time for prescription refill requests is no more than 48 business hours.  This means anything received on Friday will be completed no later than the same time the following Tuesday (assuming that Monday is not a holiday).  If you cannot give us that much time, please call the office as soon as possible and do not use this form

REACH Screening Form

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