I love it when parents ask me 'how do I get my child on board for therapy?' It is so important for us to support children with emotional needs in ways that are respectful to them. Here are 6 tips on preparing your child to engage in therapy.
1. Demystifying therapy
Your child may have a lot of questions prior to starting therapy. After all, there are a lot of misconceptions about therapy. It is important to make time to find out their current understanding of therapy and to explore what they are unsure about. Use simple language, remain genuine and encourage your child to be curious.
You may say things like:
'I wish I had a space to play music and rant about my parents (in a joking manner!) when I was young';
'If it was up to me, everybody would have a chance to have therapy so we can all get to know ourselves better'.
2. Allow your child to be involved
There are many types of therapies available for children. To name a few, children can respond well to
talking therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), dyadic developmental psychotherapy (DDP), eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), children's accelerated trauma treatment (CATT) and creative therapies etc. One size really doesn't fit all. If your child, especially if they are approaching teen-age, has the capacity, it might be beneficial for you and your child to think about which type of therapy and which therapist your child prefers together.
3. Get to know the therapist before the first session
For some children, getting to know a new person can be a huge hurdle. If that sounds like your child, you may want to acknowledge their ambivalence and reassure them with phrases such as:
'I've spoken with Crystal, I think she is_______(be honest), but you might want to find out for yourself.'
'Would you like me to tell Crystal a few of your favourite songs?'
Some children find it useful seeing a photo of their therapist before the first session. A family I worked made it a game. The parents and the child wrote down all their questions and assumptions about me based on my photo. After the first session, the child went home to 'denunk' their parents' assumptions.
4. Respect your child's privacy in therapy
We have all been young before. There are things that we'd rather not share with our parents, no matter how good our relationships are. Having a private space to explore emotions can be an empowering experience for young people. It is important to assure your child that we respect their privacy in therapy. If you would like to communicate specific events with your child's therapist between session, I would highly recommend being transparent with your child. This allows your child's therapist to bring up the specific events in sessions without compromising the trust they built with your child.
5. Take your child's view into account
I often tell young people and their families that the assessment process is as much for them to find out whether I'm the right fit as it is for me to observe whether music is the appropriate medium of therapy for them. While I strongly believe that music therapy can provide a positive therapeutic experience for children (I am, of course, biased), if your child does not wish to continue with therapy, their wishes must be taken into account when deciding whether further sessions with the same therapist is appropriate. In most cases, it will be counterproductive to make them or bribe them to continuing therapy.
6. Normalising talking about emotions and embracing vulnerability
While your child may not always want to share what they've spoken about in their therapy sessions, you may notice that your child is becoming increasingly explorative of their emotions as they engage in therapy. It would be helpful for you to facilitate an open space for discussion, embrace both positive and difficult emotions and to model healthy ways of expressing feelings at home.
To conclude, when it comes to supporting children to engage in therapy, honesty is the best policy. Children gain most from therapy when they are motivated to engage.