Finding a Competent Mental Health Professional: Types of Treatment

Once you have a handle on the different kinds of mental health professionals who are available to serve you, you’ll want to research some of the common treatment techniques and therapeutic approaches. Generally speaking, we can divide them into three categories:

Talk therapy: This is the standard cognitive-behavioral approach to counseling where you talk to the therapist.

Experiential therapy: These therapies involve physical interaction and can include play therapy, art therapy, and animal-assisted therapy. With this technique, the person in therapy focuses on the activities and, through the experience, begins to identify emotions.

Family systems therapy: In this variation on talk therapy that includes the entire family, a family therapist works with the family as an organic unit rather than working with family members as individual parts.

For obvious reasons, experiential therapy often works best with young kids. It also has advantages in the case of some teenagers, especially boys, who struggle with verbal skills. You may have to experiment a bit to find out which approach works best with your child. Whatever you do, we strongly recommend that you look for a practitioner whose methods help kids build new and better skills.

It’s important to know that the duration and effectiveness of counseling will depend to a great extent on the severity of the issues your child is facing. A brief series of sessions with a therapist probably won’t do the trick if profound trauma is present (as, for example, when there has been sexual abuse or serious neglect).

What If My Kid Refuses Counseling?

If your child or teen is resistant to seeing a therapist, you may be able to gain her cooperation by striking a deal with her. Say something like, “I love you and want the best for you, so that’s why I want you to see a counselor. Just try out a counselor for at least four times, and after that, you can decide if you want to continue or not. It will be your choice. But refusing to even try a counselor means we’ll have to come up with a consequence for you.” If a teen doesn’t connect with a therapist after four sessions, she probably never will. Forcing the issue is usually counterproductive.

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