How can I find a therapist to help my anxious child?

Hey everybody, this week’s question is how can I find a therapist to help my anxious child? The obvious answer to this question is to use a therapist directory like Psychology Today, or use Google like typing in child anxiety therapist near me. Or you can call your insurance and get a list of therapists who are contracted with them.

The problem is that none of these answers are very good ones. Not all therapists are on Psychology Today, and there’s no vetting process so people can claim expertise that they may or may not have. Same with Googling plus advertisers tend to clog those results up. And finally many therapists don’t take insurance or your deductible may be so high that you’ll be paying out of pocket anyway. The other thing is a lot of those insurance lists are woefully out of date.

This is all to say that finding a therapist is hard and finding a therapist who works with kids and teens is harder and finding a therapist who works with kids and teens and who has availability and who you and your child like is the hardest thing of all.

I know how to discouraging this can be.

What the research tells us about therapy is that we need to have a great relationship between the therapist and the client to make it successful. That means your child has to like the person that they’re seeing; the relationship itself is what heals. The trust and respect that the clinician and the client have for each other is where the change happens.

Think of it this way. Would you listen to someone you didn’t like? Would you share your biggest concerns, your darkest secrets, your greatest worries with someone you didn’t trust? Well, neither will our kids.

The younger your child is the more you will be involved with their therapy, too. This is especially true of anxiety or behavior issues. (As an aside, 99% of the kids I saw in my practice for behavior issues were dealing with anxiety.)

Anyway, this is especially true because the family system will need to shift and adjust to support the changes we’re asking the child to make. So not only does your child need to like the therapist, you need to, too. That means that you should interview potential therapists — a phone call is probably enough to get a good feel for them.

You want to be able to click with them — to feel like they will listen to you and will appreciate what’s important to you and your child.

Even though the relationship is the defining factor in successful therapy obviously training matters too, especially when it comes to kids.

Again, as I mentioned, people can say they work with children without having any additional training. So ask them about their training and experience. What qualifies them to work with the children, the age your child is?

You can ask about how you’ll be involved and how they will communicate with you. Will you attend some sessions with your child? Without your child? Are they available via email or phone if you need to run something by them?

You might feel shy about asking about this, but therapists understand that you care about your kid and any counselor worth their salt is not going to be put off by a parent who wants to be sure they’re hiring the right person to work with their child or teen.

How do you find people to interview? I encourage you to just ask around. Ask your friends. Ask your child’s teacher. Ask the school counselor. Ask on your local parenting Facebook group. Ask your pediatrician.

And ask them specifics. Is that therapist comfortable crawling around on the floor? If you’ve got a four year old, that’s probably going to matter. Ask about their style. Some kids like a bouncy and colorful therapist, and some wants someone who is calm and quiet.

Because finding a child or teen therapist is difficult. It’s likely that you’re going to have to make some compromises and usually that’s about time. Parents understandably want afterschool or weekend times but these are at a premium. For one thing, many therapists who work with kids have kids. They shape their work schedules the same way the rest of us do, which is to have dinner with their families, take their kids to soccer, be there for bedtime.

Finding an appointment time that doesn’t interfere with school might be difficult. You might have to give on that. With the rise of telehealth, this doesn’t have to be a barrier. Older kids who are comfortable with and do a good job with telehealth may be able to meet with their therapist at school with special arrangement.

When I was working at an agency, there were times I met with kids in an empty office with the school’s happy approval. After all they want kids to do well, too. I remember one particular teen who I used to have lunch with. They were perfectly content to spend their lunch hour with me so we would chat over sandwiches.

If telehealth doesn’t work for your child and you’re worried about them missing school, my experience has been that schools are very understanding about the importance of letting kids come in for counseling. Especially if the schools were the ones who gave the parents a heads up that their child could use some support.

If parents aren’t able to take time off from work to get their kid there I’ve had parents who use babysitters, grandparents, or neighbors to help get their child to their appointments. Again, I know this isn’t ideal and not everyone has that option but if you do that can be something to try.

The other thing to remember, especially when it comes to anxious kids, is that the research shows that parental intervention is just as effective.

If you can’t access therapy for your child right away don’t let that stop you from getting your own help. That can be a therapist for yourself particularly a therapist who understands family systems and child anxiety. And it can also be through a program like mine, which will teach you how to create a personalized program and then support you in seeing it through.

If you have questions about that, please let me know. Meanwhile, while you’re working on those things you can get your child on a waitlist. Many therapists who work with kids do keep a waitlist and you can just ask them to add you to it and let you know when you have openings.

Meanwhile, there’s nothing stopping you from continuing to look around. We therapists understand that if you get into therapy with someone else before our waitlist opens up that of course you’re going to take it.

The other thing is, as long as you’ve got that therapist on the line and you’re talking about wait-lists and wait time, you can ask them if they have any colleagues they’d recommend. Therapist do try to keep track of each other. It’s not like we’re out there battling each other for clients; we want people to be served and if we’re not able to do that, most of us really enjoy connecting people with someone who can.

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