Therapist Blog

Deciding When to Seek Therapy for Your Child/Adolescent

Determining at what point one should seek treatment for their child or adolescent can be difficult. When a significant life event, such as the divorce of one’s parents, terminal diagnosis of a parent, significant trauma, or other serious event occurs, it is usually more evident that in many cases treatment may be warranted. In the above-mentioned situations, treatment can help your child cope with the change or impending change to their life. It can also have a good protective function in reducing the likelihood of your child or adolescent developing more significant problems later on.

However, when your child seems to be struggling with issues such as bullying, low self-esteem, significant difficulty managing anger, and other more common issues, the decision at which point to seek treatment becomes somewhat less clear.

In general, if you have significant concerns about your child’s or adolescent’s functioning, behavior, or mood, it is best to seek a consultation with a mental health professional to determine what type of treatment, if any, would be best, based on your child’s or adolescent’s specific symptoms and situation.

Nonetheless, the following questions can be used to help determine if you should seek treatment for your child or adolescent:

- Have you noticed a significant change in your child’s/adolescent’s behavior or mood over the past month?

- Has your child or adolescent experienced significant changes in weight or appetite in the past month that do not appear to be due to a medical issue?

- Has your child/adolescent had longstanding difficulties managing their anger or frustration?

- Have they gotten into physical altercations in the past year?

- Does your child or adolescent get into trouble at school frequently?

- Is your child often the victim or perpetrator of bullying?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it is important to determine if there is a specific event or situation that has contributed to the onset of these symptoms (i.e., a new school, new medication). If a specific event or situation can be determined, it is important to evaluate whether this specific event/situation is likely to resolve itself quickly. If it will, immediate treatment may not be necessary, provided that long-term consequences of coping with the specific event/situation will not result. When in doubt, it is best to consult a mental health professional.

If no specific event or situation can be determined as the likely cause of your child’s or adolescent’s difficulties, and you answered yes to any of the above questions, it is important to seek a consultation with a mental health professional to determine which type of treatment, if any, would be most beneficial for your child or adolescent. Unfortunately, many parents often wait until their child’s or adolescent’s difficulties become very severe before seeking treatment. While treatment at any point in the development of issues is beneficial, targeting symptoms when they first begin usually leads to the quickest resolution of symptoms.

Therefore, if your child/adolescent is experiencing any significant difficulties that may warrant concern, it is important to seek a consultation sooner rather than later in order to determine if treatment would be beneficial. If it turns out that treatment is not needed, you can have the peace of mind of knowing that you were proactive in preventing a possible issue from developing. If treatment is warranted, you can get your child or adolescent the help that they need before their symptoms become worse and further impede their emotional, academic, and social functioning.

*Disclaimer: The previous information is intended as general guidance based on my professional opinion and should not replace the recommendations of a psychologist or other licensed professional with whom you initiate or maintain a professional relationship*