As a therapist who has worked primarily with children for the past two years, a common theme I have noticed with parents and caregivers is their misconceptions and misunderstandings of what the therapy process can look like for children. Therapy for children and therapy for adults is completely different and understanding these differences can not only clear any mistaken beliefs that parents may have about child therapy, but also set realistic expectations for how the therapeutic process may develop.
Children cannot always communicate clearly and/or effectively about how they are feeling or what they are thinking in the way verbal adults can. Using words is not the only way that children need or have to communicate in the therapy room. Play therapy is one of the most commonly used modalities when working with children because it relies on play, a child’s natural way of communicating. Play encompasses a wide range of activities, a few being: imaginative play, board games, nature explorations, creative visualizations, storytelling, legos, dancing, and role playing.
2. Trust and Safety
One of the main duties of a therapist is to establish and maintain safety. Creating a space that is judgment free and accepting is one of the ways therapists strive to create a sense of safety in the therapy room. This can be especially challenging with children because it relies on them to purposefully take down their guard and trust the therapist, which is why therapists spend most of their time focusing on building strong rapport with their younger clients. When a strong therapeutic relationship is created between the client and therapist, it allows for more trust and communication.
It goes without saying that children under the age of 18 are considered minors and because of that their parents are entitled to know anything and everything that happens in session. However, barring any danger or physical harm to the client or to others, some therapists may ask parents to agree to the therapist’s confidentiality rules before they will treat the client. In doing so, therapists are increasing cooperation in therapy, protecting their clients from the risk of abuse, and maintaining a sense of safety and trust in the therapeutic relationship. Some parents may feel concerned about their child’s therapist not telling them everything that transpires in session and that is a valid concern to have. When therapists preserve their clients’ confidentiality and privacy, their intention is not to create a one-sided relationship between client and therapist, but rather to encourage communication and trust in the counseling room, which can then progress to relationships outside of it.
4. Trusting the process
It is not always easy for parents to trust in the therapeutic process. Parents are paying for their child to get help and when change does not happen as quickly or acutely as they would like it can be disheartening. Additionally, the idea of not always being able to know what is happening in their child’s therapy can create feelings of separation and disconnection. Ultimately, when parents understand that therapists share the mutual goal of providing help and healing for their child then any concerns or apprehensions about the process can dissolve.
It is unreasonable for parents to expect their children to openly discuss everything that occurs in session. Children in therapy need to know that what they say or do in therapy will be upheld by confidentiality. If a child knows that what they share in their sessions will be shared with their parents then they would be less willing to attend therapy and get the needed help. Trusting their child’s therapist to share important and general information about the happenings in the therapeutic process is a vital part of the child’s healing and effectiveness of therapy. When an open line of communication is created between parents and therapists, therapists can listen to any concerns that parents have and offer appropriate suggestions which can aid in the healing process.