How to Find a Therapist for Your Child

Close up of African-American psychologist taking notes on clipboard in therapy session for children

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If you’re looking for a therapist for your child, it’s likely that you’re feeling overwhelmed. It is hard to watch your child struggling and feel like it’s out of your hands. But just as you’d take your child to the doctor for a broken bone, think of taking your child to a therapist the same way.

While much of looking for a therapist for your child is the same as looking for a therapist for yourself or another adult, there are a few other things you might want to consider as you’re looking—from other resources, such as their guidance counselor, to how involved you want to be.

How Do I Know When It's Time to Find a Therapist for My Child?

All children—all humans!—will struggle from time to time. So, how do you know when it’s time to take your child to a therapist? It turns out it’s pretty similar to an adult. Therapist Edie Weinstein, LSW says, “If areas of their lives such as school, home, friendships, self-esteem, eating disorders, depression or anxiety make things unmanageable, that is a good measure.” 

Additionally, if your child has dealt with any major trauma such as your divorce, a death in the family (pets included), bullying, or any kind of domestic violence, even if they’re not showing behavioral signs that something is wrong, they may benefit from therapy. 

Even if there is nothing “wrong,” therapy can still be helpful. “Highly sensitive children who are deeply empathic and worried but may not have extreme anxiety are often kids who would benefit from therapy earlier on in life,” says therapist Haley Neidich, LCSW.

How to Approach the Conversation With Your Child

If it wasn’t your child’s idea to go to therapy, you should be careful of how you approach these conversations.

Haley Neidich, LCSW

One of the most damaging things a parent can do is to threaten their child with therapy or make them feel like something is wrong with them and that this is why they need a therapist.

— Haley Neidich, LCSW

“These are the folks later in life who avoid mental health treatment when they really need it due to the trauma of being forced into treatment and shamed,” Neidich says.

Normalize Therapy

She suggests considering therapy as a gift to your child to help them through their struggles—and that parents should consider going to therapy as well themselves (if they're not already) to normalize it for their child.

Involve Children in the Process 

Since your child will be the one actually participating in the therapy, you want them to feel as much a part of the process as possible (and age-appropriate). Neidich recommends talking with your child about “the type of therapist they might like." For example, your child may want a therapist who is of a certain race/gender or is LGBTQ+-affirming.

She says that you may want to even email or call the therapist together if it sounds like they may be a good fit. "Children need to be willing to engage with therapy for it to be an effective, positive experience."

How Involved Should You Be as a Parent?

As a parent, you may also be wondering what your role is in your child’s therapy. “The level of involvement a parent should have is dependent upon the child’s age, issues, and relationship with the parent,” says Neidich. 

Some types of therapy, such as trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy, which treats trauma in kids, includes parents in the therapy as part of the modality. In other situations, if the child is exhibiting behavioral issues, the parent may attend some therapy sessions without their child to learn ways they can support their child. 

With older kids (tweens or teens), it is typical for the treatment of the child to involve less parental involvement. "This is often something that anxious parents struggle with and may even attempt to speak to the therapist or ask their child many questions about treatment,” says Neidich.

“Doing so can be harmful to the child as the parent should allow the child space to develop their own therapeutic relationship and have privacy within their treatment.” 

As a parent, it is understandable that you want to know how your struggling child is doing in therapy, but, other than safety matters, your therapist has an ethical responsibility to keep what your child says confidential.

Your child being able to trust their therapist to keep what they say confidential is a key part of the therapeutic alliance—and this is also a great way for you and your child to learn about defining boundaries.

Where to Look for a Therapist for Your Child

While you now know some of the things you might want to consider as you begin a search for a therapist for your child, you're probably wondering how you actually go about searching for that therapist.

Some possible ways include:

  • Asking their pediatrician or guidance counselor if they have any recommendations
  • Consulting a directory of therapists (you can either search for a children's only therapist directory or filter through a larger directory for therapists who work with children)
  • Reach out to your health insurance company to see if there are in-network therapists in your area
  • Ask other parents if they have recommendations
  • If there is a community mental health clinic in your area, they may treat children

What Questions Should You Ask a Therapist for Your Child?

Now that you've found a therapist that you and/or your child (depending on their age) feel comfortable emailing or calling—now what? If you've never looked for a therapist before—either for your child or yourself–you may be wondering what to ask to help you make your decision.

  • What is the age range of who they work with? "Some will only work with clients who can express verbally and others have a wider range," says Weinstein.
  • How much experience does the therapist have?
  • Have they worked with children and families with concerns similar to what is bringing your child to therapy?
  • Are they doing telehealth, in-person, or a combination?
  • How can you best support your child's mental health needs at home?
  • What modality does the therapist work in? (Most younger children will probably be doing some kind of play-based therapy whereas older children may be able to engage in cognitive-behavioral therapy or more psychodynamic kind of work.)

A Word From Verywell

Many parents worry that their child needing to go to therapy reflects badly on them as a parent or that they've done a bad job parenting. "There are parents who blame themselves for their child's challenges because they may have mental health or addiction issues as well," says Weinstein. "The fact that they are willing to seek treatment for their child is a sign that they are putting their child's needs before their own discomfort."

If you are seeking therapy for your child, you are brave enough to admit that you don't have all the answers but want the best for your child.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Peters W, Rice S, Cohen J, et al. Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (Tf-cbt) for interpersonal trauma in transitional-aged youthPsychol Trauma. 2021;13(3):313-321. doi:10.1037/tra0001016

  2. Jäger J, Ryan V. Evaluating clinical practice: using play-based techniques to elicit children’s views of therapy. Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2007;12(3):437-450. doi:10.1177/1359104507075937

By Theodora Blanchfield, AMFT
Theodora Blanchfield is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and mental health writer.