Deciding to bring your child to therapy is a big - and brave - step in helping them cope with their challenges. Even once the decision is made, there can be many unknowns about the counseling process. To help you understand what to expect from your first appointment and beyond, we've gathered helpful information.
The intake session
Your very first meeting with your child's therapist will be an intake session. At this appointment you will complete paperwork and answer questions about your child and their symptoms. Here are a few things to keep in mind before and during the session:Prepare your child
It's important to let your child know about their upcoming counseling appointment. What you say will depend on your child's age and personality. For younger kids, you'll want to assure them that this isn't a doctor's appointment where they examined or get shots - it's a meeting with a "feelings" doctor. For slightly older kids, it's a good idea to focus on the positive outcome of the therapy (e.g., talk about how it will make their lives easier and better).Be ready for paperwork Bring important documentation, such as insurance cards, referral paperwork if needed, and your ID. If you have a younger child, consider bringing some activities or toys to occupy them while you fill out the paperwork. Plan to answer a lot of questions
Your child's therapist will need to get a full picture of your child's personality, lifestyle, routines, challenges and symptoms. You'll want to give answers that are as thorough as possible, so it's a good idea to prepare before the appointment. Take some time to write down details about your child's behavior at home and school so you won't forget anything at the session. In addition, your child will have to answer questions as well, so let them know ahead of time. Their age and comfort level will determine whether or not you're in the room while they answer questions.Ask questions
Just like you wrote down details about your child's background, it's a good idea to gather your questions before walking in. Other questions are sure to arise, but this way you won't forget to ask something important.Discuss goals
Determining goals will certainly be part of the intake session, but make sure to have some ideas of what you want therapy "success" to look like ahead of time. Ask the therapist about what your specific goals should be and how you can measure them. A general goal of therapy is to help your child learn the techniques, tools and methods they can use to help them better cope with and prepare for any challenges they face, both short- and long-term.Your involvement
It's counseling, it's important to create a safe space where your child knows they are respected and valued. Toddlers and young elementary aged children might need you to help create this environment by being present in the sessions. Older kids may be comfortable going in on their own. Your therapist or counselor may recommend your level of involvement too.
The therapist may set up regular check-ins with just you. This way, they can get a look into how the counseling might be affecting your child outside of their office: Are they using their anxiety management skills? Have they had any meltdowns that didn't get mentioned? Is their depression getting worse? Your insight will help the treatment immensely so everyone can have an accurate picture of your child's needs and progression.
That said, there are confidentiality issues that come into play, especially with older children and teenagers. One of the most important aspects of any therapy relationship is privacy and trust. It's critical that your child feels comfortable that their sessions are confidential. One way that some parents and teenagers strike a compromise is to agree that the teen will provide regular updates on what they work on in therapy. In general, for teenagers, you should expect that the therapist will not share details but will provide updates on what kinds of issues there are working through and if they see progress.Taking the next step
Whether you have more questions about child counseling or if you're ready to set up an intake session, you can call Dominion Hospital's hotline day or night at (703) 538-2872. Our First Step counselors will answer your questions and help you start your child's path to wellness.