Children and adolescents experience and communicate emotional distress differently. They may struggle socially, have difficulty learning, act aggressively toward others, develop rituals, use alcohol or drugs, cling to caregivers, self-harm, or have negative beliefs and feelings about themselves. Such behaviors and feelings often interfere with their sense of well-being and capacity for emotional, social, and intellectual development. Therapy can be effective when problems do not resolve with time and support from parents, teachers, or friends.
Child and adolescent therapy focuses on underlying emotional problems that interfere with development. Through play and talk therapy, the clients are helped to understand the causes of their distress and to learn coping skills to deal in healthy ways in the future. The goal is to show lasting changes in emotional states and behaviors.
The process for assessment and evaluation varies depending on the age of the child or teen. During the initial session(s), information is gathered from parents or from the adolescent themself about their reasons for therapy. Typically, the client and the counselor will meet without parental involvement during the sessions so that the therapeutic relationship can be built around confidentiality and trust. The parents are encouraged to communicate with the therapist about any changes (good or bad) that take place between sessions via email so that it can be addressed in therapy. As teens approach older adolescence, in order to build trust with the counselor, it is extremely important that parental involvement is minimal. They will not be honest with the therapist and thus, therapy will not be productive, if they worry that what they talk about in the session will be divulged to their parents. Sometimes it can be therapeutic for a teen to vent and get the hard stuff off their chest. By talking through hard subject matter, teens often gain clarity and feel better by having a safe place to discuss their concerns and problems. When appropriate, teachers, pediatricians, psychiatrists and school counselors will be consulted with.