Like adults, children too often suffer from a multitude of emotional difficulties. These could include problems with peer relationships, underachievement at school, aggressive outbursts or tantrums, insecurity and lack of confidence. Or the difficulties could be more serious mental health conditions expressed through symptoms such as self-harm, eating disorders, oppositional behaviour, depression, anxiety, inappropriate sexualized behaviour and phobias. Often, these symptoms go either unnoticed or are brushed aside as a “phase that will pass”. Sometimes, parents and families find it difficult to face the fact that the child needs professional help, or are unaware that such help actually exists and is accessible. Child psychotherapy is one of the methods of treatment for such difficulties, and at Sethu we offer the services of a trained Child Psychotherapist twice a week.
Child and adolescent psychotherapy is a treatment for children, young people, parents and families and it helps in dealing with a range of behavioural and emotional problems that may not be easily addressed by other modes of treatment. Child psychotherapy is either used as a form of treatment on its own, or is sometimes used in combination with other treatments (medication, behaviour management, work with the school, etc.).
Child psychotherapists are especially trained and equipped to ‘listen’ to their young patients and to ‘hear’ what lies underneath the surface of the disturbing and disturbed behaviour. They adapt their approach to their individual young patients and work in an age-appropriate way. Often, younger children prefer to communicate about difficult things through play using the toys provided. Older children may prefer to draw while adolescents might like to talk about their feelings. Whatever the mode used, these are all means of sharing feelings and trying to resolve emotional difficulties.
In this method of treatment, it is extremely critical that the child feels safe and comfortable and understood by his or her therapist. Therefore, the relationship that develops between the therapist and the child is very important. Once this trusting environment develops, it becomes possible for the child to open up and express his/her thoughts and feelings and to use the therapy in a beneficial way. Troubling feelings — such as anger, fear, confusion, hatred, hurt and pain — can slowly be put into words rather than actions, and the therapist can then begin to help the child understand their own experience, learn how to deal with it and realize their potential.
Child psychotherapists may see a child or young person individually, in a group with other children or young people or with parents or other family members. Therapists may also see parents or carers without the child being present. Sometimes the child is seen by another professional while work with the parents goes on; sometimes only the parents are worked with. This work may focus on helping the parent make sense of the child’s behaviour, as well as understanding how the parents’ own conflicts interfere with their ability to parent well. It may also explore different possibilities in parenting styles.
Interventions with children and/or parents may be short- or long-term, from as few as two to six sessions to regular sessions over many years. The length of psychotherapy depends on the complexity and severity of problems. Interestingly, research in this field has revealed the existence of a ‘sleeper effect’ – which means that when children or young people undergo psychotherapy, they continue to experience its beneficial impact many years later.