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What Parents Need to Know about Psychotherapy

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Today’s post comes to us from Certified CBT Psychotherapist and Family-Endorsed Provider, Elise Munoz, LCSW-R. Her article answers the many questions parents might have about getting their child started in therapy. Thank you, Elise, for sharing your knowledge with us at www.rtor.org. — Veronique Hoebeke, Associate Editor


If your child or teenager is struggling with emotional, behavioral, or school-related difficulties, you may need to seek out the help of a therapist. For many parents, this is new and confusing territory. You may be asking yourself questions such as: “Where can I find a therapist for my child?” “How much will it cost?” “How long will it take?” or “Will my child be willing to see a therapist?” These are all excellent questions that need answers. For many parents this can be overwhelming, but I hope to help you to navigate this complex topic with some tips below.

How to find a therapist?

Choosing the right therapist will make all the difference in your child’s recovery. Many parents start by asking their pediatrician, although others may turn to friends, family, or the school psychologist for a recommendation. I would encourage you to consider this a starting point in a series of steps in your investigation. It will require some footwork but I assure you that it will save you time in the long run. It may be helpful to get a few suggestions and then follow up by researching the therapists online.

Additional leads can be found by using one of the largest directories of all types of therapists: Psychology Today or Good Therapy. A more specific search may be possible if you already know your child’s diagnosis, by looking on professional association listings related to the disorder, such as the OCD Foundation, Training Institute for Child and Adolescent Eating Disorders, or other places such as the Directory of Family-Endorsed Providers or the Feeling Good Institute for cognitive behavioral therapists across the country.

Ask for a free phone consultation:

Before committing to your child’s first appointment, find out if the therapist offers a free 15-minute phone consultation. If not, inquire if they would be willing to speak with you to answer your questions. If they deny this request or seem annoyed, this may be a red flag. The therapist may not be eager to take on new clients or may be overworked with back-to-back sessions all day. As a parent, you have the right to ask all of your questions before entering into a treatment contract. During that conversation you can ask them pertinent questions such as:

  • What certifications, education, and training have you received?
  • Do you specialize in a particular disorder or treatment method?
  • Which insurance plans do you accept?
  • How much, on average, does a session cost?
  • Do you offer a sliding scale?
  • Is there an initial intake or assessment ? If so, how much will it cost and how long will it take?
  • Do you involve parents in the treatment?

Training and Credentials

In order to ensure a successful therapy outcome, it is recommended to look for evidence-based therapy which research has demonstrated most effective in improving your child’s particular condition. Depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and related problems are best treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). I recommend asking the therapist over the phone if they are certified in evidence-based practice or CBT. Training is not the same as certification, which reflects a higher level of competence. Just ask yourself if you would see a cardiologist who had some training but no formal licensing in his specialization? You might ask the therapist about their background and training: “Could you please tell me about your training and experience? In particular, I am most interested in hearing if you are certified in providing evidence-based practices to children?” If the therapist responds defensively, this may reflect some insecurity. This is a sign that you need to look somewhere else. They may say, “ I do a little bit of that” which means they are not certified. If a therapist is soundly trained and certified in state-of-the-art approaches, they will be delighted to share the information with you.

Although CBT has been shown to be the most effective approach to treating depression, anxiety, OCD and other related problems, it has some flaws. In response, Dr. David Burns, best-selling author, Stanford University Professor and early adopter of cognitive behavioral therapy, has spent over two decades improving cognitive behavioral therapy making it more effective. His approach offers relief to people suffering from all types of mental disorders, (depression, anxiety, habits and addictions, relationship problems and more), using a fast-acting and effective approach called T.E.A.M. (Testing, Empathy, Agenda Setting, and Methods). In the field we like to call it, “CBT on Steroids!” If your child has experienced unsuccessful therapy in the past, you may want to try Dr. Burn’s approach, as it will help motivate your child to work on their problems. For more information about this approach see Dr. Burns’ website.

How much will it cost?

Before you contact any therapists, it is a good idea to call your insurance provider and find out what is and isn’t covered under your plan. When on the phone with a potential therapist, ask what they charge and if they are in-network with your insurance. Therapy can be expensive and although some providers take insurance, many do not. Even if the therapist does not take your insurance, it may be worth paying out-of-pocket if the therapist is offering short-term, evidence-based treatment. If the therapist does take your insurance, make sure they have the hours you want available.

How long will it take?

The length of therapy is variable and will depend on a several factors: the severity of the problem, the type of therapy orientation (short-term vs. long-term), and the motivation to get help. Long-term therapy, which is also known as psychodynamic or insight-oriented treatment can take one to several years. Short-term therapy, including approaches such as CBT, behavior modification and solution-focused therapy, may only take a few months to complete. In my practice, I have seen patients getting significantly better after 3-4 sessions and fully recovered after 10 sessions in the TEAM-CBT approach.

Will my child be willing to see a therapist?

Many parents wonder if they will be able to convince their child to go to therapy appointments. Some children might feel confused about why their parents want them to see a therapist. Adolescents may not want to admit to having a problem. On the bright side, about a third of children and adolescents do want help working out their problems. They want to feel better!

  • Make sure your child is comfortable with their therapist 

Once you have found a therapist that specializes in the approach recommended for your child’s mental health disorder, make sure there is chemistry between your child and the therapist in the first appointment. Research shows that when clients feel comfortable and trust their therapist, they are more likely to have a positive outcome in therapy. In other words, if your child or teenager likes their therapist, they are more likely to get help.

  • How to talk to your child/adolescent about starting therapy

When speaking to your child try to convey warmth and support while also getting their buy-in. For example, the way to approach this with your adolescent might be something like:

Sarah, Dad and I have noticed that you have been struggling with your schoolwork a lot. It also seems that you are not sleeping well. Have you noticed this also? Yes? Tell us more about what this has been like for you? What would it be like for you if you weren’t worrying as much? Maybe you could relax, enjoy your friends and really feel happy. What do you think about it? What would you think if we could find someone that could help you with these issues? Actually, I have the name of someone who seems really knowledgeable.

The goal of therapy should be to improve your child’s life and make their condition become much more manageable. Getting the right help early can prevent more complicated issues from developing. Failed therapies create a sense of hopelessness and therefore future attempts at successful therapy will take longer and will be more complicated. Finding the right therapist the first time will make all the difference in helping your child.

Elise Munoz, LCSW-R
Certified CBT Psychotherapist and Trainer

If you are concerned that your child is experiencing a mental health problem, it is important to seek help from a qualified mental health professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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11 thoughts on “What Parents Need to Know about Psychotherapy

  1. Denise Vestuti, Resource Specialist says:

    Elise thank you for sharing your excellent article. Your article will be a go to piece as Resource Specialist connecting and helping readers on our site, particularly parents, with comprehensive and relevant information on starting therapy.

  2. Tyler Meredith says:

    I like what this article recommends about making sure the child is comfortable with the therapist. It makes sense that the kid would need to view the therapist as a friend rather than a professional for the best effect. It’s something I’ll have to remember because my kids generally get along with everyone but it could be good to double check.

  3. Olivia Nelson says:

    I agree that before you see a psychologist you would want to see how much it will cost. I would imagine that you would want to find someone who is both experienced and affordable. My sister has been looking for a therapist so she’ll have to ask about how much it will cost when she does find someone.

  4. Veronique Hoebeke, Associate Editor says:

    Hi Olivia, thanks for commenting. You make a good point about finding an affordable and experienced therapist. I wish your sister the best of luck in her search. If she needs any help, she can contact one of our Resource Specialists for free personalized mental health help http://www.rtor.org/resource-specialist.

  5. Finn Stewart says:

    The last year or so, my daughter has really struggled emotionally and in school as well. I think it would be wise to have her see a therapist so she has a safe place she can work out her feelings. I like how you mention that the length of therapy is variable and will depend on several factors. Perhaps it would be a good idea to talk to our doctor and she which therapists he recommends so our daughter can sort through her feelings.

  6. Natalija Rascotina says:

    Really good insight for parents. its not an easy thing to comprehend for the child nor the parent. its also a challenge for the therapist to produce the best possible result for all involved. i’m sure this article will help many who are seeking answers within this matter.

  7. Gloria Durst says:

    I agree that when you are looking for a child therapist you would need to be sure that your child is comfortable with the therapist. This would mean that they could be more open and honest with a therapist than one they wouldn’t trust. My son has been having anxiety problems in school, so I’ll have to find someone who he is comfortable with to see him.

  8. Marcus Coons says:

    I loved when you talked about taking into consideration your insurance when looking for a good therapist. It makes sense that doing this can help you avoid having to pay a ton of money from out of pocket as you get the mental help you need. Personally, I would want to make sure I find a therapist that knows how to work with mental problems like the one I have and who is patient when it comes to treatment.

  9. Violette Lebrac says:

    Thanks for talking about talking to a counselor about what kinds of insurances they take. My daughter and I agreed that she should see a therapist for her self-harm behaviors, and I want to make sure that we can afford it for as long as she needs it. Checking with the therapist before scheduling an appointment would be a good way to see if they take our insurance.

  10. Bobby Saint says:

    I totally agree with what you said about the asking for a free consultation with a therapist first before scheduling the child for an appointment. Even before you hire a therapist, it is recommended that the parent ask some basic questions first such as the therapist’s license and accreditation, the training he has received, and the cost of each therapy session. This way, the parent would more or less gauge if the therapy is indeed the right one for his child. You certainly would like your child treated by someone whom you can trust and depend on. I would certainly keep this in mind if I were to schedule my child for therapy. Thanks.

  11. Tiffany Locke says:

    Your advice to get recommendations from friends, family, or the school psychologist is a good idea. I also like that you mention looking online once you’ve gotten a few suggestions in order to research the therapist more thoroughly. When getting recommendations and look online, it would probably be a good idea to specify the type of therapist you need, such as if it’s for anxiety of some other disorder.

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