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What to Expect When Bringing Your Child to a Therapist

Shawna Croaker, LICSW
PATH Trauma and Stress Clinic
Director of Community Based Services and Therapist


Your child is struggling with their emotions and behaviors and you would like them to see a therapist. What should you expect?

Shawna Croaker, the Director of Community Based Services and licensed therapist at PATH, gives pointers on what to expect when starting the process.

Legal Paperwork: When starting therapy, you will need to sign paperwork indicating you understand your privacy, responsibility, and confidentiality rights; complete consents for treatment; and provide insurance information. Releases of information need to be signed for anyone you want your therapist to get information from or collaborate with, such as teachers or medical providers. Make sure to ask questions and request copies of these releases if you would like them. 

Thorough Assessment: Expect your therapist to ask many questions. They will need history, family, medical, social, educational, behavioral, and functioning information to determine how to best help your child and family. Depending on your child’s age and concerns, your therapist may have you or your child’s teacher complete some additional assessment forms or questionnaires to gather more information.

Diagnosis: Your therapist is gathering information to identify needs and goals, but also to determine a diagnosis. A diagnosis helps guide treatment and is required by insurance companies for reimbursement. A diagnosis may be long-term, as with physical diagnosis, but also may be short-term and discontinued as functioning improves and symptoms decrease.

Explanation and Overview of the Treatment Model and Expected Length of Time for Therapy: The assessment process determines the treatment model used. Some models typically used for children are: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, among others. 

Therapeutic Activities that are Appropriate for your Child’s Age and Development: Most children do not benefit from “talk therapy” alone. We know play and interesting activities help children learn, adopt skills, and process trauma and stress. Sometimes things discussed in therapy can be upsetting for a child, so therapists often try to end the session with a brief, fun activity, such as a game, to help ease the transition back to their other environments.

Caregiver Involvement: For therapy to be most effective, research indicates it is important that caregivers are involved to help support the child and guide them through skills learned in session. This helps to translate skills to other environments, as well as improve the relationship with the main caregiver. Caregivers should be involved in all aspects of therapy, from assessment, treatment, and discharge planning.

It is important to remember that therapy is not a magic fix and it can take some time to see progress. In addition to supporting the child individually, it is also helpful for adults to learn new ways to respond to their children’s big emotions and behaviors, and ways to enhance the relationship. Building this relationship is also part of the role of the therapist and will create lasting positive impact.

Nexus has two locations, Gerard Academy in Austin, MN and PATH in Fargo, ND, that offer Outpatient Services. The locations offer services from trained professionals that can assist with the stress of life that can lead to problems at home, work, school, or in the community.


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