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If you are a parent or guardian thinking about pursuing counseling for your child and are confused about what that might look like, you are not alone! Over the years, I have talked to many parents who were embarrassed or uncomfortable asking questions about therapy. This article will debunk many of the myths and misconceptions about therapy for children and help you become a better-informed individual and advocate.
Misconceptions about therapy for children:
- Parents are to blame for our child’s problems and related myths, such as:
- If my child needs counseling, that means I have failed as a parent.
- The therapist wants to meet with me and my partner because they think we are the problem, and our child is fine.
- The counselor will praise me and show my partner that they are at fault.
Don’t worry! Therapy is not about placing blame. Successful sessions involve identifying who is concerned and wants to find a solution. A therapist can offer guidance, ideas, and new perspectives so you can help improve your child’s quality of life.
- Therapy for children means “keep out” for parents and related myths, such as:
- We should not participate in our child’s therapy.
- If we get involved in our child’s therapy we are overbearing, controlling, “helicopter parents,” or overly attached.
- Our involvement in our child’s therapy is limited to scheduling appointments, paying the bills, and making sure they show up to their appointment.
Try to remember that you are the best expert on your child, which is why it’s helpful to have a major role in their therapy. When it comes to your child’s emotional well-being, it is actually the therapist’s ethical responsibility to help you help your child (Dishion & Stormshak, 2007).
In my practice, I encourage parents to carefully evaluate the therapists they are considering for their child. This is especially important when parents plan to have their child meet with the therapist individually. You need to feel confident that your child is in good hands, even if you are not present. Your child’s success in therapy hinges on a team effort, and you are an important part of the team!
- The therapist will “cure” our child’s problem and related myths, such as:
- Since it’s my child who is struggling, only my child needs counseling.
- The counselor’s job is to “talk sense into my child” and get them to follow the rules.
- The therapist will hand us a “recipe” for fixing our child’s problem(s).
Even the most skilled and accomplished therapists cannot actually change someone’s behavior. A therapist can offer ideas, strategies, tools, and suggestions to you and your child, but ultimately only the individual has the ability to change their behavior. This is true for adults as well as for children and adolescents.
- If my child starts therapy, they will need to start medication and related myths, such as:
- Most therapists prescribe medication or will refer my child to someone who does.
- Counseling is an “express lane” to medication for my child.
- Medication will change my child’s personality and I don’t want that. I want my child to listen to me and to behave.
Most therapists who provide counseling or therapy for children and families cannot prescribe medication. Only in rare instances — usually related to preventing serious harm to self or others — would a referral to a psychiatrist for a medication evaluation be a first step in helping a child with behavioral or emotional challenges. If that does happen, you can expect to be informed about any recommended medication and the opportunity to have all your questions answered before taking next steps.
- Therapy has no end in sight and related myths, such as:
- Once we start therapy, it will go on forever.
You and your child have the right to stop therapy at any time — even within the first few minutes of the first session! The patient satisfaction rate for telehealth therapy is uniformly high, which is perhaps because you can have a visit from wherever you’re most comfortable. While the average number of therapy sessions is seven, this varies depending on many factors including goals, complexity of challenges, therapeutic approach, and whether or not the therapist and patient are compatible (Wampold, 2019).
- Pursuing counseling is a sign of weakness and related myths, such as:
- Counseling is only for people who can’t handle their problems on their own.
- Only “crazy” people go to therapy.
If you feel overwhelmed, seeking help is a good idea and a sign of strength, not weakness. Remember — children don’t come with manuals! Reaching out for support is sensible, resourceful, and courageous.
- The therapist will try to control me and related myths, such as:
- The therapist will try to read my mind.
- The therapist will force me or my child to discuss things we don’t feel comfortable talking about.
- The therapist will tell me how I have to parent, but I like my own approach.
You’re in control! While therapists have many skills, mind-reading is not one of them. Rather, therapists are trained to summarize and reflect what they hear from their clients and identify and highlight your family’s strengths. They focus on helping you and your child cope with, and resolve, the issues that brought your child to therapy.
8) Therapy is only for talking about feelings and related myths, such as:
- Therapy is about discussing the things we don’t like about each other.
- Therapy is for talking about our anger, resentment, and guilt.
- Therapy is only about “getting in touch” with your feelings.
While all of these misconceptions are understandable, it’s important to remember that effective therapy focuses on what you and your child can do to live happier, more meaningful lives. Your first step will be early on in therapy when you and your child decide on treatment goals. Just a heads up — parents and their children often have different goals in mind for therapy. A common goal for young people might be to get their parents to realize that they don’t need to go to any more therapy sessions! So, no need to panic if that’s part of your experience. Try to remember the big picture: Therapy is a journey and therapy goals represent the destination. Collaborating with the therapist helps keep therapy on track towards your goals and your child’s goals.
- All therapy is the same and never helps and related myths, such as:
- Therapy doesn’t work.
- Therapy is a waste of time.
- All counselors and therapists are the same.
It can be frustrating if you’ve had a bad experience with therapy. The good news is that there are well over 500 different approaches to therapy for children and adolescents (Kazdin, 2000). Comfort is one of the keys to successful therapy. When the therapist’s style, approach, and skillset are a good fit for you and your child, therapy is more effective. It can be helpful to talk to a few therapists to find the right one for your family! You can easily schedule an online therapy appointment using Amwell.
Whether or not you are new to counseling, it is natural to have questions about therapy. Remember that you are an important part of the team and have the power to address your concerns about your child’s therapy journey. For more information about effective child therapy, click here:
Dishion, T. J., & Stormshak, E. A. (2007). Intervening in Children's Lives: An ecological, family-centered approach to mental health care. American Psychological Association.
Kazdin, A. E. (2000). Psychotherapy for Children and Adolescents: Directions for research and practice. Oxford University Press.
Wampold, B. E. (2019). The Basics of Psychotherapy: An introduction to theory and practice, 2nd ed., Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association