Children Counseling and Therapy (Counselor | Therapists) serving Gainesville, Alexandria, Manassas, Fairfax - in Northern Virginia and Washington, DC and surrounding Areas.
Sometimes children encounter difficulties that parents and caregivers find difficult to help them navigate. Oftentimes externalizing behaviors such as tantrums, defiance, and inattention can extend past the scope of normal developmental behavior and signal a more significant underlying issue.
It is important to note that the aforementioned behaviors are considered part of the normal developmental process; however, at times they can be so disruptive that they interfere with a child’s ability to socialize appropriately with peers, succeed in school, problem-solve, and maintain safety within the home.
Some of the problems elementary and middle school children encounter include academic failure, bullying, difficulty making friends, struggles with attention and follow-through on tasks, difficulty expressing emotions appropriately, and family issues including but not limited to grief, divorce, abuse, moving, and being a part of a military family.
When Should I Seek Help from a Professional?
It can sometimes be difficult to ascertain whether a child’s behavior is developmentally appropriate, “just a phase,” or a significant problem that needs professional intervention. Assessment and evaluation by a trained and licensed mental health professional can help parents and caregivers determine what course of action would be most appropriate for their child. However, some signs that suggest a child may need counseling include:
1. Behavioral Problems (including aggressive and excessively defiant behavior)
2. Significant drop in grades or academic functioning
3. Extreme mood swings and/or irritability (It should be noted that depression in children and adolescents is often manifested as irritability rather than the depression we typically envision)
4. Episodes of tearfulness, sadness, and a prolonged depressed mood
5. Withdrawal from family and friends
6. Self-harming behavior (e.g. cutting)
7. Suicidal or homicidal thoughts or gestures
8. Change in motivation to participate in activities the child previously enjoyed
9. Changes in sleep patterns (either sleeping too much or sleeping too little)
10. Changes in appetite (either eating too much or eating too little)
11. Increase in complaints about physical ailments (stomachaches, headaches, fatigue that are not the result of a diagnosed medical problem)
12. Frequent suspensions or expulsions from school (including suspensions for skipping school)
13. Intervention from law enforcement
14. Suffering a significant loss or trauma (death of a loved one, abuse, divorce and custody issues)
15. Use of alcohol or illegal substances
What Should I Anticipate During the Therapeutic Process?
Therapy is not an overnight solution to a child or family’s difficulties. It is a process that requires investment from the parent or caregiver as much as the child and therapist. Families should anticipate being an integral part of their child’s treatment and will often be incorporated into sessions as this leads to better treatment outcomes. Families should also anticipate making changes alongside of their child’s efforts to make change so that they are better able to help their child maintain progress once the therapeutic process is completed. As with any type of therapy, confidentiality is of the utmost importance as a child needs to trust the therapist is working with him or her rather than working for the parents. However, parents should also feel comfortable asking questions and sharing concerns with the therapist. Your therapist should work to ensure the child feels safe sharing his or her feelings while also ensuring the parents feel in the loop as to therapeutic progress and ways to best help their child.
What Types of Treatment Are Used with Children?
The type of treatment used with children varies greatly depending on your child’s age, developmental stage, presenting problem, and learning style. Sometimes traditional talk therapy can be a useful modality; however, children (particularly elementary school aged children) communicate best through play. This may seem confusing for parents when a child leaves therapy and speaks only of the games played or art created, but play is part of a child’s processing, particularly when they lack the language to share about their problems or emotions. There are several therapeutic interventions shown to work well with children. Your therapist should discuss what course of treatment might most benefit your child. Some of the most common include:
Play Therapy Interventions- These interventions incorporate a wide range of activities including but not limited to games, athletics, creation of artwork, role-playing, using puppets or dolls, and incorporation of a dollhouse to help the child express problems, emotions, and thoughts.
Sand Therapy Interventions- Although these techniques could also be classified under play therapy, it utilizes a separate modality (sand) along with various miniature figures to help the child, adolescent, and even adult express their thoughts and feelings in an emotionally safer way than directly talking about the problem.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Interventions- These interventions focus on the interplay between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Older children and adolescents may be able to talk through decision-making and problem-solving techniques; however, even younger children can learn to do this in conjunction with play therapy interventions.
Family Therapy Interventions- In many cases the problem bringing the child into treatment requires more than just individual therapy. Often there are other difficulties within the home that may need to be addressed, particularly if the child is struggling with a trauma, loss, or parental discord. A therapist can help families improve communication, discipline, structure, and positive family interactions, which in turn will benefit the child as well as the family as a whole.
Please contact us by calling us at (703) 754-0636 or via email here to schedule an appointment.
Our Children Counseling services are facilitated by the following therapist:
Babak Alidoosti, MS, LMFT (Gainesville Office)
Jennifer Chukinas, MA, LPC (Alexandria Office)
Tracy Palmer, Psy.D., M.P.H. (Gainesville Office)
Lorna Tempest (Alexandria Office)