Being a good child psychologist has been my passion since I started graduate school almost 30 years ago and most of my field training, formal education and professional work has been focused on children. Children participate in therapy in distinctly different ways than adults do. The ability to share past experiences, process feelings and reflect on behavior depends not only on a child’s age, but on her language skills, attention, social experiences, interaction skills and willingness to be there. Similarly, how well therapy “works” depends on many factors, particularly since most children can’t make changes without the support of the people around them, especially without the help of their caregivers.
My approach uses developmental, biopsychosocial and systems perspectives to understand the child, the presenting problem and the resources available to address the problem. While that framework is important, the work of therapy happens in the interactions between the child and me, so a strong relationship is crucial. One thing I love about being a child psychologist is that I get to play with kids, so play is often the way I foster my connection with the child, whether it’s putting on a puppet show, drawing a picture, playing a board game, building an imaginary spaceship, or working on a puzzle. Creating a comfortable, safe and engaging space is another priority, so I have a wide variety of toys, games, fidgets, art supplies and snacks on hand for use during sessions. I value children having a positive experience during their time with me, even when we are working on issues that are uncomfortable or emotional.
The children I see come to therapy for a wide variety of reasons; reasons that are frequently identified by the adults around them. Part of making the therapy helpful is determining who in the child’s life is available, ready, and motivated to work on making changes. Because the person who is most able to make changes is often not the child, I partner with others in the child’s life who are involved in the areas of concern and have the potential to support positive change. Some of the people that may be part of the therapy are parents, caregivers, school professionals, and other health professionals. When working with young children, I usually have parents present for some part of every child session as well as meeting with parents separately to work on the concerns. Children who are above age 10 often have more individual sessions, but their caregivers are still involved, sometimes through communications outside of the therapy session or by joining the child for some part or all of a session to work on a particular topic.