Choosing the Right Child Therapist

Aug 11, 2010

I received a question from a parent who reads my blog asking how to choose a therapist or psychologist for their child. Rather than do a video to answer this, I thought it would be helpful to write it so that I can include links for your perusal. Here are my recommendations.

The question was comprised of two parts and I will address each one separately. The first was “What are the features or backgrounds we should be aware of or ask for?” A very important question, especially when in reference to minors. First and foremost, choose someone who you instinctively feel is a good “fit”. You can determine this from their website, the first telephone conversation, or the first consultation. If you sense any kind of unease or apprehension, trust your intuition and start the search again. After all, you will likely have to work with this person for months and you will need to trust them with your children.

You should notice their credentials listed and would want to search what they stand for. In Florida, you would see LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor), LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist), or Lic. Psy. (Licensed Psychologist). In other states, you may see PC, LC, or others. A licensed therapist is held accountable to the state, and has been approved to provide mental health services after meeting qualifications and passing exams. They are required to provide their license number, and you can check that they are in good standing with their licensing board by searching the government websites for your state.

As far as their educational background goes, any person you choose should have at least a master’s degree from an accredited school. You will either see MA (Master of Arts), MS (Master of Science), PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) or PsyD (Doctor of Psychology). Further, any one who says they work with children and/or adolescents should have training and education in addition to traditional schooling. Successfully working with children requires more than just a degree, and having tools and skills specific to minors is crucial. Anyone can say that they accept children as clients, but make sure to ask them about their experience outside of their educational program. Ideally, you would look for a therapist who specifically mentions child or pediatric in their services (Child Therapist, Pediatric Psychologist, etc.)

Lastly, in my professional opinion, if your child is under the age of twelve, he or she should be seen by a trained Play Therapist. Play Therapy is a highly effective, extensively proven approach for children that allows them to build skills and learn life lessons in their natural state of communication – play. A person most highly trained in Play Therapy would have the acronym RPT (Registered Play Therapist).

The second question was “Are there any online resources to help with this?” I already mentioned the government websites from each state for the licenses. I would once again advocate searching for a Play Therapist first. You can visit the Association for Play Therapy website here for a localized search. You can also search the Psychology Today website here, which contains therapists and psychologists.

I hope this information is helpful to those of you who are looking to add the help of a professional to assist with the health and happiness of your children. Proactivity is always favorable to inactivity.