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Kids & Counseling: when does it make sense?

I was chit-chatting with a friend earlier, and she talked about her 13-yo son and his biweekly counseling sessions.  He has ADD, which accompanies a host of other emotional issues for him including anxiety and depression.  The counseling sessions really work for him.  

We got to talking about my biggest girl and her emotional swings of late, surely a thing of growing up.  Then my friend suggested: "Why not have her see somebody"  I said, "Like a therapist?"  My friend thinks that having someone, a third-party, to have as a sounding board, is a good thing for a youth in their pre-tween to teenage years.  But, I thought, aren't her friends supposed to be that "someone to talk to"?  What about other close friends who are adults?  And, even, how about me, her mother?

There are situations when a therapist makes sense for our children, but - after my friend's suggestion - I am wondering, when *does* it make sense?  Has your child gone to counseling or to a therapist?  For what goals?  And, do you have some suggestions in the Portland-area?


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i think it makes sense when a teen thinks it'd be a good idea. peers are not equipped to be therapists for friends, who are often struggling with the same issues and lack clarity in the same areas as each other. and while connection and honesty between parent and child is important, and can be amazing, even the most connected families can benefit from an outside perspective and an ear that isn't attached to heartstrings or ego.

lauren macniell is wonderful:

or, depending on the specific issues, i could probably make other recommendations too.

I agree that friends are not necessarily the best sounding boards for all problems (though good ones can be a very comfortable place to work out minor issues). I'd be hesitant, though, to push a child into counseling if she is going through what seems mostly like relatively typical pubescent emotions.

that said, the right person could be helpful. Everett sees Kurt Kemmerer at Broadway Medical Clinic, and I love his gentle, empathetic approach.

i would never push a child into counseling - but it might be really welcomed by a teen who needs a sounding board :)

I'm a children's therapist so I'm a little biased on the value of the therapeutic process when it's warranted. A caution though. You can't get around the societal belief that you go to therapy when something is "wrong" with you and you need to be "fixed." Kids are the first ones to point this out and believe it about themselves. If you're going to engage in therapy, you have to really be prepared to talk about this whole dynamic. In particular, I think kids need to own that they are struggling with something and someone out there has solutions to offer beyond what parents can do. If a child can recognize that X is really interfering in their life and they would like it to be different, they are much more open to therapy.

I think therapy is great for kids when they have psychoeducational needs that go beyond what a parent can teach, when they have a trauma they don't seem to be rebounding from, when it seems like they have a debilitating depression, anxiety, or some kind of self-destructive behaviors (self injury, eating disorders, etc) and you are considering meds or fearful for their safety, that kind of thing. Family therapy can be great for broader family issues such as communication skills, difficult family transitions, etc. Outside of this, I think it's really important for children to know that their family is the first place for information and support and parents need to step into that role, no matter how uncomfortable it can be. That whole "parents are a child's most important teacher" concept really rings true for me. I also think it's important for parents to know when they themselves hold the answers and are the people who need to work the change just by virtue of being the adult. For example around parenting issues, adults are much more qualified by virtue of maturity to change how they respond to a child's misbehavior than a child is to change it.

Sorry I don't have much to offer in the way of referrals as I don't work in this community. But, if you are asking the question, it's worth a call to your pediatrician to determine what's in the range of typical behavior and what might need more attention. He/She would be in a good position to offer some suggestions or referrals.

Love the phrase, "adults are much more qualified by virtue of maturity to change how they respond to a child's misbehavior than a child is to change it."

I'm definitely in favor of therapy for preteens and teens....wish I would have had it. Might have spared me a lot of suffering. I think it's really important for children to have an adult other than a parent that they can talk to about difficult stuff.

As an adult (now 25) who grew up going to a family counselor/psychologist from pre-teen on, it really helped me deal with family situations and realize no family is perfect. It helped me get through struggles I had with dealing with my mom's depression and mood swings, etc. Sometimes things would get so bad I considered suicide, but the one thing that gave me hope was knowing I could call up our counselor & schedule an appointment, and I'd get there one way or another even if my mom wouldn't take me I knew my dad would.

Most families probably don't have issues that deep for typical teens to deal with, but I know a lot of my friends could have benefited from seeing someone. I also have never done drugs and didn't participate in under age drinking... while I'm not going to say that's only because of counseling (I might have chosen not to either way, who knows?) I definitely do think it helped. It helped me to not feel alone, to know that once I graduated I could make the decision of whether or not I even wanted my mother involved in my life, etc. It helped me see the big picture. And coming from a family that had alcoholism on my birth father's side, and drug and alcohol addiction on my mother's side, it would have been a likely path I could have easily ended up down.

I'm now studying Psychology myself, I'm married with one child and we all go to see the counselor I grew up seeing for a lot of reasons. Mostly because I didn't have a good mother figure and don't want to parent like my mother, but a very big part of it (and this is one of the first things I learned in basic psychology)... ANYONE can benefit from talking to a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, etc.

Long story short, it definitely wouldn't hurt, especially for a teenager or pre-teen. That's just a difficult age to go through period.

I agree that it can be tricky to know when a child (tween or teen or otherwise) would be best served by a trained therapist. Many therapists do offer initial consultations for free. It might be worth talking with particular therapists to learn about their approaches when deciding if therapy is needed.

I am a therapist who works with adults and couples, but I often recommend Heidi Thomas at (503) 407-8955. She is especially good working with kids who have autism spectrum disorders.

I think if your child's behavior is causing more stress than not, and is not making sense to you, than it may be useful. It is important to find a therapist you connect with so take advantage of free meetings like mentioned by Jaimie. There are also many youth groups/programs that are just as helpful. I am biased toward Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist for many reasons. Being a mother and LMFT, I feel we could all use some more support and healing. It is an investment for learning skills that will be passed on to the next generation. Type in your city at this site if interested: http://www.therapistlocator.net/index.asp

I think going to see someone can be pretty simple -- we've gone a couple of times to see someone when we simply felt like we needed more tools in our parenting toolbelt. It has always, always, always helped, whether because we changed our approach or because it affirmed what we were always doing. Just a few visits did the trick.

We've gone to a great women in a cheery office in NW Portland -- her name is Monne Smith and she takes a variety of insurance programs. She was able to figure out what we needed within the first 10 minutes. Her number is (503) 730-7935.

I tend to think, as some above here have mentioned, that therapists are great (I myself am studying child, family, and marriage counseling) when there are major issues to overcome. But as the counselor who chimed in above said, there is a definite stigma to seeing a "shrink", a teenager just facing the usual (though not to say easy by any means) tribulations of being a pre-teen or teenager, the added stigma of being seen as different or "sick" or even crazy by their peers could make things much worse. It has to be the child's decision unless they are hurting themselves through drugs or violence, have overwhelming depression issues that is making it difficult for them to see on their own that they need support, or have a true psychological illness. There are many other steps to take before that... parents, aunts and uncles, family friends, their own friends, youth groups and clubs. And teachers! Especially in these tricky years, a great teacher is someone who can help them learn and pass a test but should also be someone who supports each child's self-esteem and drive in the world. I have seen many of my friends in high school struggling with family and drug issues thrive when no one else thought they would because they had one amazing teacher - it was our high school Psychology teacher Mr. Madson! thank you! Though this is not my biggest catch phrase, in this case it is very true - it takes a village to raise a child. and we all have t be aware and look out for those in our community...

I am a therapist as well, though I do not see children or families in my practice. The program I went to did teach that often family therapy is indicated over individual therapy for children and adolescents (of course depending on the issues involved). This is because of what Mom22 said above; parents are the "leaders" of the family (hopefully) and thus if there are things that aren't working well, often the changes needs to come from the parents first, or at least the issues need to be looked at holistically, as a family issue and not a problem that only involves one member. That being said, I would definitely talk to your daughter about what her take is of the situation.

I also went to see a therapist at my mother's urging (this was when I was a bit older-16) and it was not helpful at all. I was way too self-conscious to open up to this stranger about all the things that were going on with me. The sessions were excrutiating. But obviously other people are saying they were helped a lot by their therapists at that age, which is nice to see.

We went to a family therapist when I was a young teenager, for about a year, maybe longer, after my mom remarried. My issue was that my stepdad was the biggest jerk on the planet. He still is - believe me - where ever he is.
Therapy was such a negative experience for me. It may have been that he was a family friend -- I felt like there was just one more person sitting in judgment of me.
I did have a really awesome next door neighbor that I could speak freely with. She was a genius at explaining why other people might act the way they do, and how I could alter my behavior for the best outcome. Thanks, Sue!

I have a resident teen who was in therapy until recently and really didn't like it. It left such a bad taste in her mouth that I'm leaving it alone. Maybe later we can look into a different counselor. I am the sounding board for her and her mom both, and it can be exhausting. I just wish they would find someone else to vent to!!

I say err on the side of getting help. I think we should start looking at our emotional needs in much the same way as we look at our physical/medical needs. You go to a doctor for check-ups to make sure everything is okay and you go to the doctor when you're not sure what's the matter. Right now we use therapy like an emergency room - when there is a pressing and urgent issue. Taking your child to see a therapist can't hurt and she's bound to benefit from it in some way. Even better, the therapist will be able to offer YOU the mom, great advice on how to deal with your moody daughter.

I am going to be the voice of dissent, here. There are simply too many bad therapists, or bad techniques, or bad evaluations, or misdirected courses of treatment. I've seen families shattered and relationships broken and value systems torn to shreds by therapists who simply got it wrong. This sounds very dramatic, but I'm not exaggerating. In fact, a few years ago I specifically went in search of a therapist who would focus on helping me and my husband stay together -- and it was actually really hard to find someone who was willing to work from that standpoint. Now, I DO believe that a therapist can be extremely helpful in truly troubled situations -- but I ALSO believe that life is complex, adolescence is hard, and these experiences are normal. If you have a strong family and a good relationship with your child, and you don't have major alarm bells going off that indicate you need professional intervention ... I don't see any reason to subject a child to treatment.

I knew someone who used a therapist to successfully help her elementary aged child navigate a bully situation at school and a few other social issues. I brought my son in to talk about managing his increasing frustration and it only made him more frustrated. You never know till you try, no two kids are the same.

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