Does My Child Need Counseling?

Being a parent is the most difficult job in the world. I am a parent. I am also a family therapist who has counseled parents for over twenty eight years. I realize the significance of the title of mother or father. When taken seriously, the role of parents takes more energy and commitment than anything else I can think of. Being concerned about our children, we are always on the look out for any problems that our children may have. We want to find the balance between seeing every issue as an indication of disturbance, and ignoring the danger signals, in the hope that the youngster will “grow out of it.”

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical situation and ask some questions. Ronald is eleven years old and evidences angry behavior. He hits his younger sister and gives her a hard time. We already have the first bit of important information, Ronald’s age. Although they are not absolute measures, there are guild lines and age ranges for development and age appropriate behavior. The next question I would ask, if Ronald were referred to me for treatment is “How long has this behavior been evidenced?” Children naturally go through phases. One day’s problem is the next day’s ancient history.

The next question is “How is Ronald functioning in the following areas?”:

With his parents?

In school?

With his peers?


Has anything unusual or significant occurred recently (i.e. a birth, a marriage, a death, etc.)? The key to evaluation is intensity and duration. That is, how dramatic is any behavior or personality shift, and how long have the changes been present?

Based on these preliminary questions, there are usually three possibilities:

Treatment is not indicated at this time. This might be the answer if the problems are not particularly dramatic, but just mildly annoying. The behavior seems to be age-appropriate and just a normal part of growing up.

Therapy is indicated. A combination of individual treatment for the child, and individual counseling for the parent is warranted. Rarely do I recommend that the child be seen exclusively. Effective treatment occurs when the child’s specific conflicts are dealt with and the additional resources of the parent are also enlisted.

This involves the education of the parent in “parent management” skills. I advise this psycho-educational process when emotionally charged issued can be resolved by teaching the parent alternative coping skills for effectively handling various situations and areas of communication.

To properly assess the need for, and type of treatment, the therapist must begin by meeting with the parent and evaluating the youngster. Therapy is, in the final analysis, as much an art as it is a science. There are no absolute answers or guidelines. Therapy must be an individualized process.

What I have suggested is a general perspective and perhaps food for thought. Being interested in your child is an important factor in his/her development. Always ask the question and care. Listen to the answers and you have a running start.

Good Luck!!




How to Choose a Therapist

A good therapist will work with you, as a partner. He/she will not tell you what
to do. He/she will help you to find a solution to your problems. Good therapy is
an art form. It depends on the therapist’s ability to focus on your problem in a
way that is useful to you. An effective therapist goes beyond professional
training. He/she will understand you. He/she will help you to believe there is
hope for things to work out in your life.


Four Things to look for in your therapist: 
1. Do you feel comfortable talking to the therapist? After all, this is someone
with whom you will have to trust and share your most private thoughts.
2. Has he/she dealt with this kind of situation before?
3. Will he/she tell you what to do (“Aunt Sadie Therapy”) or just sit and listen
with limited comment? During each session the therapist should help you to
figure out the solutions for yourself.
A therapist is different from other professionals. An attorney, a
physician, or an accountant tells you what to do. They will tell you
how to present your case, what medication to take, or how much
money you owe the IRS.
4. The therapist should also give you practical advice and things to think about
that you can take home and work on between sessions.
Before you choose a therapist you should interview them. Talk to them over the
phone before you set up an appointment. Discuss the issues I raised earlier. By
using the above suggestions you should get a pretty good idea about this
potential therapist.


If you would like more information about selecting a therapist, see the article
“Selecting a Good Marital Therapist” in the Marriage Counseling section.


The Good News:
You may only require a few sessions. Three months is probably the average
time for noticeable psychological improvement to occur for many problems.
(See Consumer Reports (1995), “Mental Health: Does Therapy Help?”, pp.
734-739). Individual experiences will vary. Some issues or deep seeded
problems do take awhile to work out. Why not find out what is involved? I
remember years ago when I was in college and money was tight. I didn’t have
any heat in the passenger side of my car. I was afraid to go to have it checked
out because I was worried about how much it would cost. Finally, after riding
around wearing a hat and gloves, I impulsively drove to an auto mechanic to
check out what the problem was. I said to myself “I will freeze no longer.”
“What ever it takes I will do”. I found out that I was low on antifreeze. Things
aren’t always as bad as we think. Sometimes a quick look by a “mechanic” can
offer easier solutions that we thought possible. Don’t stay out in the cold when
you don’t have to.