Explaining Psychotherapy to Kids



Erik Erikson was a child psychoanalyst who trained with Anna Freud (Sigmund's daughter--herself an important figure in the development of child psychology) and developed a schedule of stages, each characterized by a main conflict.  School age kids, he said, are wrestling with the conflict of "Industry vs. Inferiority".  Children must have experiences and relationships which teach them about getting things done from start to finish and to feel good about themselves because of what they can do.  They also need to have experiences which teach them about how not to feel industrious ("inferior").  As a child wrestles with these two possibilities, a sense of competence is developed, and the child grows emotionally.

Parents sometimes worry that their children will feel that there must be something wrong with them because they're going to a therapist.  This is mostly a parent's worry, though.  While children will feel nervous about their first visit to the therapist's office, once the relationship is established, it is creative, warm, accepting, and fun.  Remember, the child therapist is well-versed at making an alliance and helping kids feel at home.  The therapy hour is not an hour of talking at the child.  It's an hour of interacting with the child in a way that helps the child understand himself or herself and to better communicate with their family.

Parents can tell their children the following:  "I know you've been struggling a lot lately, so I made an appointment with a person who is an expert at growing up.  We're going to go together and talk a little bit, and he/she told me on the phone that he/she has lots of toys and games and stuff to do."

It's important to emphasize the fact that it's an 'expert' and not a 'doctor' or a 'shrink'.  Kids can relate to 'experts'.  Also, if you mention that there are things to 'do' your child will be put at ease because kids get bored easily and will dread going one more place with mom or dad where they'll have to sit still and be polite.  At the therapist's office the child will be asked for his/her opinion and to participate in activities which will further their development.

boy playing with truck uid

All information contained in this site is Copyright 2014, Robin Walker.  The information here is not intended as a substitute for professional care and is not to be construed as advice.  Reproduction is prohibited without the express permission of the author.