It can feel like a daunting and overwhelming situation. Your child’s first appointment with a therapist. Not only is your child likely feeling anxious, but you are too. As the parent or caregiver, you are wanting to help make the first appointment go as smoothly as possible and part of that is preparing your child for that appointment.
Here are some helpful suggestions to prepare your child:
- Talk them through the process.
– If they are old enough to know where the location is, tell them. If they can picture it in their mind, it isn’t an unknown place.
– Show them a picture of the therapist from their bio on our website.
– Explain to them that the first appointment is usually just getting to know the therapist and that they are welcome to have their parent/caregiver present for some or all of that first appointment, if it will make them more comfortable.
– For younger children, let them know that there are toys, craft supplies, books and other things they can enjoy whilst waiting for their appointment and during their appointment. The child therapists make sure to find out what the child is interested in and they incorporate that into their therapy sessions.
- Let the child know that it is their appointment and that they can be honest and open about how they are feeling and that they are not obligated to share things until they feel ready. They are also allowed to ask for the parent to come back in the room, or ask if they need a break.
- Nothing about the process is supposed to be traumatizing, the therapist wants to listen and support without any judgement.
- No one is “analyzing” them. Many young people, in particular teens and pre-teens associate counselling with being analyzed, leading to worry about being judged. Therapists are not permitted to diagnose mental health disorders, and they are not trying to analyze you. They are just trying to connect with you so that they can help. It is important to learn to trust the therapist so that you can fully open up to them.
- Teens and pre-teens also worry about getting into trouble by sharing things. Please read over the confidentiality clause on their intake paperwork with them. It clearly outlines the times when a therapist is legally obligated to report things that have been disclosed. This will also be explained by the therapist at their first appointment.
- For my children, I always explain that going for counselling is like visiting your family doctor. When we have concerns about our physical health, we are usually comfortable booking an appointment and talking to our doctor about what we are experiencing. There is not much stigma associated with visiting a medical doctor for a checkup, therefore, try to “normalise” the therapy process Explain that taking care of your mental health is as important as going to see your doctor and that many people find themselves needing support for their mental health, they aren’t alone!
- Talk to them after the appointment – when they are ready. When you have left the appointment, show that you are interested in how it went, without pushing for more information. Saying something like, “If you feel like sharing how it went, I am here to listen. I want to help support you however I can.”
- Be kind to yourself, it is normal for you to have your own feelings about your child being in therapy. If you feel you need to talk to someone too, don’t be afraid to reach out. It might also be helpful for you to read our blog https://brantmentalhealth.com/my-child-is-in-therapy-and-it-feels-like-my-fault/ if you are feeling guilty.
This blog is based on experience and is not designed to replace seeking the advice of a mental health professional. If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, please reach out to St. Leonard’s Crisis Line at 519.759.7188.