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Understanding Your Child's Therapy Journey: A Comprehensive Guide for Parents

Choosing to seek counselling for your child can be scary, both for your child and also for you as the parent. Feeling unsure about what to expect is normal. Despite this fear, be assured you have made a positive decision regarding your child's mental health.

Therapy may also be new to you, so it is hard to know what to expect. You may have questions about your role and wonder whether you will be kept out of the loop. How you approach your child starting therapy will have a significant impact on the overall success of treatment. In general, research shows that therapy is better when parents are involved. But what does that mean? Here's how you can support your child as they begin therapy sessions.

Confidentiality and Safeguarding

First and foremost, understand that therapists adhere to strict confidentiality guidelines in sharing information with third parties, ensuring that your child's privacy is respected. Trust and safeguarding are the ethical foundations of therapy. You will sign a contract to consent to your child receiving therapy. Be sure to read this carefully to find out more about your involvement in therapy sessions and overall treatment as therapists can often differ in their approach.

You will need to sign a consent form to share information to allow the therapist to disclose any details about your child to another person or entity. There are exceptions to confidentiality, such as if the therapist believes your child is at risk of harm to themselves or others. In this case, information will be shared with the relevant parties to access further support for your child.

Be a Part of the Team!

Your involvement in your child's therapy journey will vary based on several factors, such as your child's age, the therapist's professional approach, the purpose of therapy, and the type of therapy they are undergoing. Research conducted in 2015 indicated that child therapy tends to be more successful when parents actively participate. Parental involvement enhances treatment participation and attendance. However, as a parent, you must be aware of some limitations on what your child's therapist may decide to share with you about their sessions. Confidentiality in therapy is crucial for effective treatment, allowing individuals, including children, to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences without fear of judgment. While legally, minors typically lack confidentiality rights in therapy, many therapists establish confidentiality agreements with parents. This means your child's therapist will likely not share the details of their conversations with you. Instead, sharing only what your child agrees to.

If possible, discuss with the therapist to clarify expectations about sharing information at the onset of the relationship. Therapists will agree to share with you anything that puts your child in danger and typically will require your child's permission to allow you to sit in on sessions. This might be hard for you...but this supports that your child can trust the therapist, promoting them to be more open and honest in their sessions. If your child worries about how you will react to what they think and feel, they will not discuss it with their therapist if they believe you will find out.

How you feel is normal!

It is expected to feel vulnerable when your child starts therapy. You might feel guilty, wondering if you could have done something differently, or anxious about what the sessions could reveal. If you have sought counselling for your child due to their concerning behaviors or emotions, you may be worried about the negative long-term effects that these issues could have on their life. Additionally, you may be concerned that these problems reflect poorly on your parenting skills. Instead, the opposite is true; it is a proactive step towards supporting your child's emotional well-being. So, be kind to yourself and acknowledge that you are doing your best for your child. You are instilling exceptional self-care skills in your child...teaching them to ask for help when they are struggling.

How to Help and What Not to Do

Taking a very intentional approach to counselling for your child is essential. Navigating this experience can be easier when you develop a plan for approaching it. Here are a few do's and don'ts that can help get you started:

Do prepare your child for therapy. You know your child best, so decide when to tell them you want them to start seeing a counsellor. You may want to wait until a few days before the appointment to help minimize anxiety ahead of the appointment. Or, it may be better for older children and adolescents to begin the conversation before you schedule the appointment to allow them some voice and preference. Begin this process with honesty, support, and encouragement that you are concerned for their well-being. Offer observations about why you are worried for them and why you think having someone to talk to will be helpful.

Don't interfere. It can be difficult to not be included. You may be uncertain about sharing concerns and observations directly with your child's therapist or letting the therapist work with your child's direct concerns and perspectives on problems. You may want to insert yourself into your child's therapy. Doing so can actually derail the process. Trust your child, the mental health professional, and the therapeutic process. Talk with your child's therapist to set some guidelines about your role at the beginning of the process.

Do practice patience. Your child will have good days and bad days. Recognize that change will come in its own time.

Don't dismiss their feelings. Let them know it's normal to feel a range of emotions throughout therapy. Offer a listening ear without judgment and provide comfort when needed. Tell them you will not be angry with them and invite them to talk about their thoughts and feelings when they want to.

Do offer encouragement. Communicate to your child that you are proud of their bravery and determination. Take notice of changes in behaviour and mood and offer praise by commenting on the positive differences.

Don't expect quick fixes. Making changes to mood and behaviors can take time and effort. One hour a week in session with a counsellor is not enough to make the change you and your child are hoping for. Your child must practice the new skills they are learning throughout the week. Ask how you can support these new skills at home. Give praise when you see your child making different choices.

Starting therapy can be a life-changing experience for your child, giving them tools to help them throughout life, including the belief that there is strength in asking for help. By understanding what to expect and providing unwavering support, you can empower your child to thrive on their journey toward emotional well-being.

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