Child & Teen Therapy
Has your child has been struggling for weeks, months, maybe even years? Maybe it’s school related stress. Maybe it’s friendship concerns. Or maybe your child seems anxious or frustrated most of the time. You may worry about your child’s temper tantrums. Maybe your child or your family is going through a bumpy life transition, and it seems to be hitting your child especially hard. It could be time to seek out therapy.
I help children and adolescents experiencing a range of issues:
Separation Anxiety and School Avoidance
Learning Difficulties and School Stress
Temper Tantrums and Oppositional Behaviors
Friendship Concerns and Social Skills
Families in Transition
Shyness and Social Worries
Grief and Mourning
Building Child-Parent Communication and Bonding
Aggression and Bossy Behavior
Assertiveness and Self-Esteem
When a child is struggling, the whole family is affected. Children act out for a variety of reasons. The first step to dealing with tantrums or acting out behavior is to understand what is bothering your child. Often acting out behavior is a signal that children are feeling overwhelmed by feelings related to depression or anxiety. Some kids are painfully shy, and avoid things like birthday parties or events that other kids enjoy. Psychotherapy offers your child the opportunity to work towards a better understanding of themselves, their relationships, and their established patterns of behavior. Understanding emotions and behavior helps them slow down to make better choices that set kids up for success.
Psychotherapy helps children and adolescents in a variety of ways. Kids receive emotional support, learn how to resolve conflicts with people, understand feelings and problems, and try out new solutions to old problems. Goals for therapy may be specific (change in behavior, improved relations with friends or family), or more general (less anxiety, better self-esteem).
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) helps improve a child's moods, anxiety, and behavior by examining confused or unhelpful patterns of thinking. CBT therapists teach children that thoughts cause feelings and moods which can influence behavior. During CBT, a child learns to identify harmful thought patterns. The therapist then helps the child identify and choose alternative perspectives to create more helpful thought patterns, resulting in more flexibility of feelings, behaviors, solution strategies. Research shows that CBT can be effective in treating a variety of conditions, including depression and anxiety.
Here's one example of how CBT can be helpful with anxiety. For children with anxiety, the process begins by helping them, and their parents, gain some clarity about the function of anxiety (Fight, Flight, or Freeze). We start thinking of anxiety as a feeling or sensation instead of who they are ("I feel worried" instead of "I'm an anxious person"). One way I do this is by having kids conceptualize anxiety as a “bully in the brain”. I encourage kids to give the bully a name and talk back to the worries. I teach skills to handle the bully, helping kids create their own ideas and the words they can use to take care of their frightened feelings rather than feeling controlled by worry.
Mindfulness has emerged as powerful tool to help children.
Kids learn mindful movement, breath awareness, and how to train attention. Mindfulness teaches how to pause in the face of strong emotion. By developing awareness of the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that arise, kids cultivate an 'inner helper' to foster more calm and resilience. Situations that trigger their anxiety or sadness are explored in structured, incremental steps, and in a safe environment. As they become accustomed to each of the triggers in turn, the anxiety fades, and they are ready to take on increasingly powerful ones. Parents also learn the concepts of Mindful-Parenting, so they can comfort their children and guide their kids in training these practices.
Psychodynamic Psychotherapy emphasizes understanding the process of childhood development with it's characteristic stages and conflicts. If we understand the process of child development, we are able to create methods of helping that take into account your child's own development and their unique psychological resources.
Developmental stages strongly influence the motivation and meaning of your child's behavior, thoughts, and feelings. Understanding your child from this perspective helps us discover how to talk with your child in a language that has real meaning in their worldview.
There are also times when a child's development makes a departure from the typical developmental trajectory. They seem stuck in an earlier phase of development or there may be some incongruity between their chronological and emotional age. Using psychodynamic psychotherapy helps parents and kids identify typical behavior patterns, defenses, and responses to inner conflicts. As children begin to develop the capacity to observe their mental life, they develop the strength to choose strategies for helping themselves rather than going on 'automatic pilot'. When kids and parents understand what is beneath their conflicts, we are able to get kids back on track toward their developmental needs and goals.
Play Therapy involves the use of toys, blocks, dolls, puppets, drawings, and games to help the child recognize, identify, and verbalize feelings. For kids, play is the most natural language for their feelings and thoughts.
Ever try to ask your child what they are feeling and get the response "I don't know" or a shrug of the shoulders and no response at all? When help is offered through the world of imagination and play, children actively explore approaches to self-soothing and begin to make decisions about how they can address their worries or troubles.
Within the play metaphor, children show the therapist how they have experienced the important situations in their life. For example, a girl who has difficulties making friends, expresses her feelings and learns about making friends by playing a game with a group of imaginary animals.
Play inspires empathy and creativity while providing a safe environment for children to rehearse problem-solving skills. Through a combination of talk and play the child has an opportunity to better understand and manage their conflicts, feelings, and behavior.
Family Therapy focuses on helping the family function in more positive and constructive ways by exploring patterns of communication and providing support and education. Family therapy sessions can include the child or adolescent along with parents, siblings, and grandparents. Couples therapy is a specific type of family therapy that focuses on a couple's communication and interactions (e.g. for child therapy, couples work would focus mostly on the development of a parent team approach).
I tend to work very collaboratively with parents. The way I think about it is that I'm the expert on psychology in general, and you're the expert on your child and your family in particular. Our job is to put our heads together and come up with ideas for helping this particular child at this particular time.