Navigating the arena of mental health can be frustrating and confusing, and those challenges are often magnified when you are searching for a therapist to help your child. Sometimes it’s hard to determine whether your child even needs a therapist. Are his outbursts “normal”? Is this a stage that she will eventually outgrow? Am I making a big deal over nothing? Where do I even begin?
If you’re considering a therapist for your child but you’re not sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place. While I’m not going to recommend specific names or practices around Knoxville, I will walk you through some important factors to consider.
1. If you’re on the fence about whether or not your child needs a therapist, go ahead and make the call.
I think parents debate decisions like this whenever they are considering seeing any sort of medical specialist. You worry about the cost, you worry that it might not be necessary, and you debate whether it will be worth it. But oftentimes, the peace of mind is worth it. Go ahead and make the appointment. You’ll never really know whether your child needs counseling until you sit down and talk with a licensed therapist face-to-face.
2. Figure out the acronyms.
It can be daunting to even determine what kind of a mental health professional you would like your child to see. While many different types of licensures may qualify a person to provide counseling, you will probably want to choose someone who has experience working specifically with children. You may even be interested in finding someone who specializes in play therapy.
Here are a few helpful definitions of common acronyms you’ll encounter during your search:
- LMFT: a licensed marriage and family therapist
- LCSW: a licensed clinical social worker
- LP or CP: a licensed psychologist or clinical psychologist
- MD: holds a doctorate in medicine and can prescribe medication or might exclusively prescribe medication
- CFNP: a certified family nurse practitioner
- EMDR: someone who has been trained and certified to provide eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (you will have to determine if this is something you would want your child to try)
3. Use your insurance coverage if at all possible.
Therapy can run upwards of $200 an hour, so if your health insurance has a list of in-network practices in town that they will cover, you will probably want to find someone who is in your network so that you only have to worry about paying a copay. Many local practices refuse to work with insurance at all and they bill clients privately. (I’ve even paid a therapist directly using Venmo at the end of the session!) Rather than sorting through the long, exhaustive list that your insurance company will provide you with, I recommend looking for a therapist using the directory at Psychology Today, and then cross-referencing your health insurance’s list of network providers to see if the therapist you want is on the list.
4. Consider asking for a one-time consultation.
What if you feel your child urgently needs to be seen by someone, but it seems like none of the practices you’ve called are currently taking new clients? Call and ask if you can have a one-time consultation with one of their therapists. A therapist may not have room to meet with a new client on a weekly basis, but it’s likely that they can spare one hour to sit down with you and give you some basic coping mechanisms and strategies to use with your child. It may give you peace of mind to talk with a mental health specialist about your child’s specific behavior and get some feedback on what you can do as a parent when future situations occur. This may be exactly what you need until you are able to find a permanent therapist for your child.
5. Expect really long waiting lists.
You’re going to have to mentally prepare yourself to be patient with this process. If you were hoping to get your child an appointment to see a brand new therapist next week, it’s probably not going to happen. Mental health providers began seeing a huge influx of new clients during COVID, so it’s likely that you’ll need to wait several weeks or even a few months for that first appointment. Your first choice may not be taking any new clients at all, and you may have to compromise and go with your third or fourth choice. Many offices are meeting virtually through telehealth appointments only (which, depending on the age of your child, may not be a great fit). Some offices are only open one or two days a week right now. Whatever the case, you’re going to need to be flexible.
6. Practice patience, patience, and more patience.
Don’t expect your child to reveal the deepest secrets of her heart during the third or even the fourth session. It’s going to take some time to really establish a bond with this new therapist, and it may take going consistently for months before you begin to see a breakthrough in your child’s behavior. Any therapist worth their salt will tell you that there is no “quick fix” in the mental health field. Digging down to the root of the issue, learning healthy coping mechanisms, and establishing new routines and behaviors will all take time. Expect progress to be slow.
7. Expect to participate in the sessions from time to time.
Most mental health professionals will acknowledge that the parent is an important piece of the puzzle in trying to figure out what makes your child tick, and they will often want to involve you in the conversation. Some therapists may want to schedule entire sessions with just you from time to time, or perhaps conduct the first half of the session with the child and spend the second half summarizing what happened and taking your questions. Unlike a traditional therapist, the role of a child therapist is to come alongside the parent and work with the parent directly for the benefit of the child.