Wow, that’s a loaded question, right?
Actually, no. I believe all children – all people, really – can benefit from therapy at times in their lives, and especially when a family is going through divorce, it can be quite a help.
These days, a lot of child therapists are really booked up due to the effects of the COVID pandemic and all the anxieties that came with it. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from trying to find a good therapist when they determine that their child really needs to speak to someone outside of the family to help allay anxieties and reassure them during big transitions.
As a co-parenting specialist, I unfortunately see a significant amount of parents who argue and fight over whether a child needs therapy. Or if they agree that the child needs therapy, they might fight over who to choose, who takes the child, and other details of the logistics.
Let’s take a look at all the issues that can make this question fraught.
Therapy Is Always Beneficial
First, it’s important to note that I believe in therapy. I believe it can never hurt.
Any ethical therapist does not want to keep a child in therapy longer than they deem necessary. Yes, there are corrupt practitioners out there, but thankfully they are few and far between.
Secondly, I know therapy can be costly. If a family does not have insurance, or their insurance does not include mental health, it can be quite expensive. So you have to know that it is needed.
How do you know if your child needs therapy?
Any child whose parents are divorced can benefit from therapy. Regardless of the details of your particular divorce, there may be touchpoints during childhood or young adult years where a child may benefit from some intervention, and it may not even be long-term.
For very young children, 3-7 years old, it could just be a resource during a time of change and adjustment in their lives. At that developmental stage, the therapist can only take them so far. Young children share their feelings and make sense of their world in therapy, seeing the therapist as a safe person outside of their parents to speak with, someone objective they can say anything to without worrying about people’s feelings.
Plus, starting therapy at such a young age teaches children that it is positive to share feelings, and it is possible to have resources outside of your family.
At other transitional times – puberty, the teen years, leaving for college – therapy can be a helpful guide, too.
If yours is a high-conflict divorce, your children definitely benefit from seeing a therapist.
This is not because you did anything wrong. Therapy may be the only place they can go to learn to advocate for themselves so they can stay out of their parents’ conflict.
A therapist once told me, when working with a 6-year-old: “I’m never going to be able to do anything about the parents and their conflict, but I can fill him up with a high dose of self-esteem, teach him to advocate for himself, and help him understand that the conflict is about the two of them and no reflection of him.”
Signs That Your Child Needs Therapy
Look for these signs to tell you your child needs therapy:
- Acting out
- Behavior problems
- Regression – bed-wetting, sucking thumb, being very clingy, or for older kids, being rude, angry, anxious, having difficulty sleeping, having bad dreams, waking up a lot, constantly needing reassurance, being nervous about somebody breaking into the house
These are signs of anxiety or depression, and a clear need to sort out feelings and grief. A child in these instances could benefit from working with a professional.
Also, if your children start struggling in school or having difficulty with friends when previously they did not, if at school there is all of a sudden, a change in their behavior, shutting down in class, not cooperating with teachers, it’s time for intervention. A great first line of defense is to contact the faculty and the counselor.
It’s Not a Reflection On You
Divorced parents often seem afraid that there is a sinister agenda from the other parent who wants to put the child in therapy. Some parents are concerned that the therapist is going to be inappropriately utilized to do something with the court.
I’m not going to sugar-coat things. Those are possibilities. If a therapist is concerned, if anything needs to be reported to CPS, they are mandated reporters. That sometimes happens.
But if you’re a good parent and you’re doing the right things, not talking negatively about the other parent, then you should have no fear.
Yes, your child is going to complain about you in therapy. That is what they do in therapy. They complain about home life and parents. Therapists are trained to understand the difference between a normal childhood complaint and things that are more concerning.
Children tell each parent different things to make them happy and to please them. The therapist gets the real story about what’s going on. The therapist teaches the child to focus on their needs and take care of themselves.
Don’t you want that for your child?
Next month, the blog will focus on how to find and choose a therapist! Check back here to read all about it.