Explaining therapy to your child

Your Child and Teen
Explaining therapy to your child

Now that the brave decision to seek therapy for your child is made, the next question is how do you explain this appointment to him or her.  We always want to prepare children for new and different situations.  However, if we ourselves do not know what to expect then it might make it difficult to explain this meeting to your child.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Prepare your child on what will happen once he is at the therapist's office. This can include basic details such as the location of the office, length of the appointment and the name of the therapist.  Help reduce his anxiety by eliminating unknowns.  Generally he will be asked questions about himself.  Depending on his age he may play with different toys or games in the office.
  • Compare this to a medical visit or concern.  By explaining that seeing a therapist is like seeking help from a medical doctor or pediatrician, this will help eliminate some of the myths and notions about why people go to therapy.  For example, when someone has a toothache she sees a dentist to see if she has a cavity.  Similarly, when someone feels down or nervous she may see a therapist or a “feelings expert.”  The therapist helps to come up with ideas and strategies to help the child feel better.  You can also let your child know that the therapist helps the parents with ideas too so that she does not feel that she is being singled out or that she is the problem. 
  • Let your child know he is not alone.  If appropriate, let your child know that you or a family member went to see a therapist.  This will help him normalize his feelings and experience.
  • Plan fun activities around the meeting.  Just like you might with other doctor appointments, let your child know she will be having special one-on-one time after the meeting. Take her out to a favorite restaurant or let her pick a preferred activity of something to look forward to.
  • Let your child know the therapist is there to help.  Sometimes an adult or authority figure is seen as another person on the other team.  Instead, compare the role of a therapist to a supportive adult figure such as a coach or teacher who wants to see him succeed.