The Center for Disease Control estimates that 13-20 percent of children have a mental disorder, but most of these kids do not receive treatment. This may be due to issues of access, finances, unawareness, or concerns about the stigma of seeking help.
Once you’ve overcome those challenges, here’s how to prepare your child for the first visit to a mental health professional.
- Find out the process. We all do things a bit differently, so call the office beforehand to get a good understanding of what will happen. Children (and their parents) feel anxious about the unknown, so seek clarification about what will happen during the visit and whether you will be with your child during the interview.
- Explain the visit in neutral terms. Tell your child that a therapist will meet with the family to help understand the problems and make suggestions to make things better. Many kids enter my office very defensive and then try to protect themselves by attributing the cause of their difficulties to parents, school, siblings, or others.
- Ask your child to be honest. My effectiveness as a therapist is directly related to the truthfulness of the information that I receive from parents and children. Encourage your children to say what they really think and feel. If they are unable to do so, instruct them to decline to answer rather than lie.
- Explain the limits of confidentiality. In the presence of your child, ask the therapist to explain what will be kept confidential. I tell kids that our conversations are private, with two exceptions. I will disclose reports about child abuse, or if I have concerns that a youngster may be dangerous to himself or others. I give lots of examples of what I will and will not keep confidential consistent with the age of the child.
- Don’t confront your child about his refusal to talk. Some parents tell me that their child has declared that they will refuse to cooperate. I’ve found that if a youngster is treated with respect, good humor and courtesy, they are cooperative and forthright.
- Don’t interrogate your child after the session. It’s fine to ask an open-ended question such as “how did things go?” but don’t pressure your child to disclose what happened during our session. My goal as a psychologist is to encourage open discussions between a child and his family. That goal is best met when youngsters talk when they are ready not when they are pressured.
I know it can be tough, but please reach out for help if your child is having problems.