1. Can bringing my child to a psychologist harm my child?
The decision to bring a child to a psychologist is not an easy one. Many parents may worry about stigmatizing or traumatizing their child or perhaps being blamed for their children's problems.
Parents need to be reassured that a psychologist is there to help them and their children feel better and teach skills to handle whatever difficulties they may be facing. The service is confidential. Thus no one knows that a particular child is seeing a psychologist or what the problem is. The psychologist's job is to help both the child and the parent feel comfortable so that they can be open to changing their own situation.
2. How do you figure out what the problem is?
To best help a child, it is important to gain a good understanding or assessment of the problem. Because children live in families, the starting point is usually meeting with the parent or parents.
Depending on the age of the child, I may meet with the parent(s) for the first session, or with the parents and the child. After the first session, I generally have an understanding of the perspective of the parent(s) and may have an understanding of the child's point of view. I follow up by meeting again with the child to further understand his or her point of view and to further develop a good working relationship with the child. If necessary and with permission, I ask the child's teacher(s) to fill out some forms so that I understand how the child is functioning in another situation. Sometimes more formalized assessments, usually standardized psychological tests, are required.
3. My teenager does not want me to be in the room when she talks to you. What should I do?
That is not unusual. Sometimes, older teens wish to meet with me alone in the first session. I believe it is important to respect their wishes, but I always meet with parents first to discuss issues of confidentiality.
4. Who will be involved in therapy and what happens in therapy?
Therapy usually involves both the parents and the child although, in some exceptions, therapy can involve parents or children only. Therapy often involves meeting with the child to help him or her process some difficulties or learn skills to deal with specific situations.
Ideally, therapy involves frequent communication with the parent(s) so that I can report on the child's progress, receive feedback on his or her progress, and suggest strategies or teach skills parents may use to help their child.
5. Do you do the same type of therapy for younger and older children?
Typically the form of therapy varies for children of different ages. A special “play room” is available for young children as play is often the most effective vehicle for them to communicate complex feelings. As children become older, they are more likely to engage in "talking" therapy. However to effectively address each child’s individual needs, it is very important to be flexible. Regardless of the age of the child, my choice of treatment is informed by research which demonstrates the effectiveness of the particular approach.
6. How do I know that my child needs a psychologist?
Parents bring their children to psychologists for a number of reasons. Usually it is because their child is not coping in one or a number of areas of their lives and this is interfering with their ability to flourish and be happy.
Sometimes the reasons for a child’s difficulties are obvious; there may have been a recent change or trauma in their lives. Sometimes, the parents do not know the source of the child's difficulties, but sense that something is not quite right. Often the child's difficulties are a source of stress to the parents who want to help their children but may not have the skills or resources to do so.
Sometimes, children have difficulties at school. A child may be frustrated, defiant, or unhappy because he or she has to work harder than the other children. They may be fighting with other children, being teased or experiencing boredom.
Sometimes problems come up at home. Children may seem angry or defiant. They may have difficulty complying with rules and regulations. Sometimes they need help coping with a recent change such as parents separating, divorcing or remarrying or the death of a parent.
Some children are sad, anxious or depressed. They may become withdrawn or not participate in activities that are typical for children their age. Sometimes parents have a sense that something is not right in their child's development or interaction with others.
Often when children are having difficulties, parents may find that their normal parenting strategies are no longer effective. In their frustration, parents may then find that they are nagging, arguing and yelling, but are no further ahead with their children. Parents may also find that they are arguing between themselves because they disagree about how to help their child.
When these or other problems are occurring and persistent, it may be useful to consult with a psychologist to determine causes and methods of intervention. Sometimes a full assessment of the problem can lead to recommendations that may be implemented by the school and parents. Sometimes the best course of action is to help the parent(s) develop skills and strategies to help their children. Other times, individual therapy in addition to parent support is helpful.
7. What services do you offer to divorcing and separated families?
I am particularly devoted to helping families cope during times of transition. The decision to end what was hoped to be a lifelong partnership can be very difficult for everyone involved. It is important to remember that each situation is unique; not everyone has the same needs. I offer a range of services in this area but typically only contract one service with any family at any time. My primary goal is to ease the transition, minimize conflict, and support each individual. Fortunately, I am associated with a wide range of other professionals who are skilled in this area. This means I can make referrals and work as part of a qualified and supportive team.
When dissolving a relationship, the adults may need any of a number of services either individually or jointly. Some adults seek individual therapy so that they may get the support that they need.
Separating adults may find that they are involved in difficult negotiations and require the services of a coach to help manage stress and build skills to effectively resolve legal, financial and parenting issues with their partner.
Parents often seek the support of a child specialist who can discuss the impact of separation on the children and provide information that will help parents make better decisions for their children. As a child specialist, I meet with the children in order to understand their perspective. I then discuss the children's needs with the parents so that they can make plans that better meet the children's needs.
Sometimes separated parents need a professional to support them in finding better ways to communicate, and to work together in a new parenting arrangement to meet their children's needs. Although this may be a difficult process, I find that ultimately, engaging in this process benefits everybody, but especially the children.
Children may also need support dealing with the break-up of the family. In addition to seeing children individually, I typically give parents feedback on how they can better support their children.
I am available to do assessments as requested by the court when families experience difficulty in determining how best to meet their children's needs.