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Finding The Right Therapist For Your Child

Updated on April 19, 2012

As parents we sometimes look for a little extra help with raising our children especially if they have special needs; a therapist can help.

How do you find the right counselor?

Depending on your state laws and regulations, people giving advice will have varying levels of education and training.

You need to find someone who is best suited for your situation. If your child has minor behavior issues it won’t be a big deal if they only have a sociology degree but if your son or daughter has symptoms of a disorder you might consider seeking someone with more experience in dealing with your child’s specific needs. A psychiatrist or psychologist will be more qualified.

The Internet is a good source to find the right psychologist. They often have categories of needs and expertise. It will usually tell you if they work with young children or teens.

Check with your local hospital or your child’s school for references of someone that would be best suited for your son or daughter’s specific needs.

When does a child need therapy?

There are many reasons why your child may need to talk to a therapist. It can be a serious reason such as abuse, traumatic experiences, death or drug abuse. Or it can be as simple as them acting out at school or home and mom, dad and teachers need a bit more help finding out the cause.

If your child or teen has withdrawn and seems more distant than is normal they may need counseling.

Kids go through many phases as they grow and mature and sometimes they don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents about what is bothering them. If a boy is being raised by a single mom and going through puberty he might feel more at ease discussing these changes with a male counselor than he does his mother especially if there isn’t a man in his life to help him understand what is going on with his body.

The same goes for single fathers raising daughters. Some girls don’t have a problem talking to dad about periods, boys and make-up but if your daughter is a bit shy discussing these issues she might need a woman’s perspective to help her out.

The flip side of this coin is if you are a single parent raising a child of the opposite sex and you are uncomfortable discussing sex and puberty. It happens, sometimes; kids don’t have a bit of shame talking about these things but their parent clams up and starts blushing. If this is the case you need a counselor.

Do not discuss your child’s behavior in front of them.

It is typically amateur counselors that try to do this; psychologists and psychiatrists know better.

I don’t care what excuse they give; find someone else. This is very unprofessional and they should know better but unfortunately many will try it anyway.

You are there to discuss problems your child is having and it is uncomfortable for them to hear these issues told to a total stranger. You won’t feel at ease talking about every situation as openly as you would if your son or daughter weren’t sitting there.

Ask them before making the appointment if you will be able to talk to them in private, if not look elsewhere.

If enough people refuse to use their services they’ll change this practice.

Often counseling is more beneficial for the parent than the child.

Talking to the counselor may give you ideas and ways of dealing with your son or daughter that you might not have thought of. They can give you a different perspective of why they do the things they do or what is going through your child’s mind. Knowing why they exhibit certain behavior can be very therapeutic for the parent.

Two heads are better than one or in some cases three heads. Hopefully mom and dad are involved in the counseling process. Even if the psychologist doesn’t give you a straightforward solution you may come up with ideas on your own just by talking to an uninvolved party.

Man or woman therapist?

If your child was sexually abused you want to make sure their counselor is not the same sex as the perpetrator. In most cases sex offenders are men but there have been cases of female predators and your child may feel more comfortable talking to someone opposite the sex of the abuser. Talk to your child before making an appointment.

Ask the receptionist the gender of the psychologist. We can’t assume a person is a man or woman based on their name. I’ve seen women named Michael and men named Ashley.

It may simply be that your son or daughter opens up better with someone of a certain gender. Nothing sexual has happened they just feel more comfortable talking to someone of the opposite or same sex. Ask them if they have a preference.

Changing counselors

Sometimes due to personality conflict a child won’t get along with their counselor or they just don’t open up and discuss the issues. They don’t seem to be making any progress and your child may even dread going. When this happens it’s time to find someone else. Don’t feel bad, it happens. Just tell the counselor that you feel it would be in your child’s best interest if you found someone they felt more comfortable talking to. A professional won’t take it personally or try to talk you into staying. They realize that everyone is different and children don’t open up to everyone the same way.

What is the difference between a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a counselor?

A psychiatrist is a physician who can prescribe medication as well as diagnose and give therapy. They are also the most expensive of the three. They have a Doctorate.

Psychologists can’t prescribe medication but are well educated in psychology. They usually aren’t quite as expensive as a psychiatrist and often work along side one or a doctor who can prescribe medication if their patients need it. They at least have a Masters in psychology although many will have a doctorate.

School counselors usually have a Masters in psychology and education. Again, this varies by state.

Counselor’s education varies from state to state. Some areas don’t require much schooling at all while others expect a Bachelor degree in sociology or psychology. Some states will let you hang a shingle and give advice with little training what so ever; you just have to pay for a license.


Just being a teenager is not easy. If they are a little bit different: nerd, homosexual or have a disability; kids can be cruel.

Look for signs of your son or daughter withdrawing, acting out or displaying sexually promiscuous behavior. Any unusual smells, dilated pupils or unusual behavior could be the sign of drug use.

It is not always easy now days for kids to know what is appropriate behavior and when they’ve gone too far.

Some teen girls get into sexting, talking to pedophiles via the Internet or performing sex acts they don’t really want to do because of peer pressure and information online. There have been instances of young women committing suicide after feeling their reputation was ruined and their families wouldn’t love them anyone.

Boys are often the victims of bullying and instead of telling parents or teachers they just endure hoping it will go away. Too many young men have taken their own lives due to feeling overwhelmed and at the end of their hope.

Be on the look out for any signs of activity your teen may be exhibiting that could be a call for help.

Homosexual teens

Gay and lesbian kids commit suicide more than any other youth. It is sad that in our modern world they can't feel comfortable in their own skin and live normal lives but it happens everyday.

It's not always something parents realize or figure out so it's important to discuss these issues with your child letting them know you are okay with it and they can talk to you anytime. If you suspect your son or daughter might be homosexual it's not a bad idea to get them counseling. Not because there is anything wrong with them but so they can talk about their feelings of being different and struggling with their orientation.

Teen hotlines:

National Youth Crisis Helpline: 1-800-999-9999

24-Hour National Crisis Hotline: 1-800-448-3000

Family Violence Helpline: 1-800-996-6228

Alcohol and Drug Helpline: 1-800-821-4357

Eating Disorders Information and Referral Line: 1-800-931-2237

National Depression Association: 1-800-826-3632

Gay and Lesbian Hotline: 1-888-843-4564

Planned Parenthood (connects you with your local clinic): 1-800-230-7526

Runaway RAP Line: 1-800-292-4517


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    • Pamela N Red profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela N Red 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma

      Daffy, that is so true and some have a specialty dealing with different people. Some are better with kids and some are experts with certain disorders.

    • Daffy Duck profile image

      Daffy Duck 

      6 years ago from Cornelius, Oregon

      There's a lot of good information here. Counselors/psychiatrists/psychologists are like teachers. There are so many different styles of doing the job that not everyone will do it the same way. Just because one is said to be really good that doesn't mean they will be good for your kid.


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