If you have a broken arm or a bad cold, you go to the doctor for help and to feel better, right? And if you have a toothache, you don't go to your pediatrician or family doctor, but you see a dentist, a special doctor for your mouth and teeth.
Sometimes kids and adults have a problem that they can't see as easily as a broken bone or point to as easily as a cavity, and it can't be fixed with a cast. When people have troubles with their emotions, their feelings, or the way they act, sometimes they see a psychologist (say: si-koh-loh-jist), psychiatrist (say: si-ki-ah-trist), or therapist. These are people who have gone to school for special training in the way people think and feel and how to help people feel better.
Who Are Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and Therapists?
Just like your family doctor would look at your broken arm, ask you some questions, and give you a cast to make it better, a therapist does the same thing with feelings and thoughts that may be causing problems at home or at school. A therapist can help kids figure stuff out so they can feel better.
Any therapist who works with kids knows a lot about kid stuff, like how kids think, how they grow up, and how they see the world. And although psychiatrists, psychologists, and other therapists have different training and went to different kinds of schools, any one you would see has a lot of experience working with kids. They are all experts who specialize in helping kids solve problems and deal with tough situations.
Why Would a Kid Go to a Therapist?
There are many reasons to see a therapist. Remember that your mom, dad, or teachers want you to go to a therapist because they want you to feel better.
Maybe you're having trouble getting along with your classmates, your brothers or sisters, or your mom or dad. Or maybe you're having problems learning or paying attention in class, or your homework and your grades aren't as good as your mom or dad think they could be.
Other reasons to go see a therapist could be that you're very shy and have trouble making friends, or that you feel sad, afraid, or anxious a lot. Sometimes if your parents get divorced or if someone who is close to you dies, seeing a therapist is a great way to talk about your feelings.
Sometimes kids can be the victims of sexual or physical abuse, and some kids your age can even have problems eating. These are all types of problems that can often get better with a therapist's help.
What Happens When a Kid Goes to a Therapist?
A therapist's office is special because instead of being examined on a table with tools, you'll sit in a comfortable chair and just talk, or play games, or sometimes draw pictures. There are no needles or shots. If you're having problems with schoolwork, the therapist may ask you to answer some questions or solve some puzzles. This can help the therapist understand how you think and learn.
The therapist always wants you to feel comfortable, and he or she won't make you do anything you don't want to do or talk about anything you don't want to.
The first time you see your therapist, your mom or dad will come in with you. You, your mom or dad, and the therapist will talk together and help you talk about your feelings, the problem or situation, and anything else that is bothering you. After you feel comfortable, the therapist might want to talk to you alone or talk to your mom or dad alone.
The first visit to a therapist is about understanding the problem that you or your mom or dad wants help with, and getting to know a little bit about you. After that, there are other visits to work on solving the problems. Unlike when you need to visit a doctor only once to treat your sore throat, sometimes it's necessary to go to a therapist several times before you are feeling better. A kid might go as often as once a week or once every 2 weeks for a few months or even a year. Most kids don't just see a therapist once.
Sometimes the therapist will meet with you alone, so you can have a chance to talk privately about your thoughts and feelings. Other times, your therapist might meet with your mom or dad to talk about how you're doing and how your parents can help you at home.
Many therapists will ask you to set goals for yourself or to keep a notebook describing your feelings between visits. When you visit your therapist again, be sure to bring your notebook with you. This way, you can keep track of how you're getting better.
Getting Help Is No Big Deal
Some kids feel that getting help from a therapist is a sign of weakness or that it means a kid in therapy is "crazy." Well, that kind of thinking makes no sense.
If you get a small cut, you know to wash it out and put a bandage on it. But if you had a serious cut or a broken bone, you know you need a professional doctor. Even adults know they need to see someone with special training to help them get better.
Your thoughts and feelings work the same way. If you have a little problem, you can help yourself or your mom or dad or teacher will help you. But if you have a problem you don't know how to fix, it's better to see a therapist and get better rather than to ignore the problem and let it get worse.
People who see therapists aren't "crazy," they just need a little help. If you need help, seeing a therapist is the right - and smart - thing to do. Everyone has problems sometimes, and it's smart to take charge and work them out.
However, some kids may not understand. If you see a therapist, don't feel like you have to tell everyone - just like you wouldn't tell the whole world you have a stomachache. But who you tell, or if you tell, is your decision.
If you don't like your psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, or therapist, it's worth mentioning to your mom or dad. Depending on the situation, it may be possible to see someone else. But remember that your therapist, mom or dad, and teachers want what's best for you.
Updated and reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: November 2001
Source: KidsHealth www.KidsHealth.com is a project of The Nemours Foundation which is dedicated to improving the health and spirit of children. Today, as part of its continuing mission, the Foundation supports the operation of a number of renowned children's health facilities throughout the nation, including the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, and the Nemours Children's Clinics throughout Florida. Visit The Nemours Foundation to find out more about them and its health facilities for children http://www.nemours.org/no/