What techniques do mental health counselors use to support children in therapy




Children and teenagers can experience a range of mental health challenges that impact their ability to learn, their self-worth and their actions. Issues such as bullying, family problems and conditions such as ADHD and depression can lead to feelings that children struggle to cope with. Counselors offer therapies to help young people manage their problems, communicate in more effective ways, and achieve their full potential at school.

Whether the young person is angry, stressed, or sad, counselors help them to understand their strengths and teach coping skills. Occasionally, the entire family unit will need support as part of the therapeutic process. This could be in terms of establishing boundaries, learning to communicate, or creating a more nurturing home environment. Counselors help children and their parents understand why they are experiencing certain feelings. They can also challenge negative patterns of behavior and beliefs, which are harmful to the family as a whole and the individuals who are part of it.

Evaluating and treating children who need help is very fulfilling. This is a role in which practitioners get to make a genuine difference and see the positive results of their efforts over time. Although the training is intense, new online courses from providers such as American International College make it easier for working professionals to fit in a qualification around their other commitments.

Individuals with a Bachelor’s Degree in any field can apply for the online Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at American International College and complete the course remotely. As part of the program, students are prepared for their licensure examination. They also gain practical experience through a local placement and can expect to graduate after 2 years of full-time study or 3.5 years of part-time study.

How does a period of mental health counseling begin?

The first stage in a course of mental health counseling is the therapist meeting with the child and possibly their parents. The therapist will ask questions to learn more about the situation and listen carefully to the responses. Next, they will explain a bit more about how they might help. In most cases, children and young people will benefit from talking and expressing themselves.

Activities are also used to explore feelings and learn coping strategies, such as mindfulness, but new skills can also be taught. These could focus on being patient, listening or following directions without becoming frustrated. Finally, for older children, problem-solving skills are also useful, whether the issues are at home or school.

Choosing a developmentally appropriate technique

Selecting the right approach takes time. It involves the counselor understanding which developmental stage a child is at, rather than basing the therapy on their age group. This means getting to know the child and considering their cultural and social background. Using the knowledge they gain, they will establish useful goals that do require significant effort but that the child believes are reachable.

Here, the counselor’s work will be informed by current ideas in learning, best practices, and the knowledge they gained at university. Developmentally appropriate practices support the individual needs of children but are also flexible and can be adapted as new research or knowledge becomes available. Here’s a closer look at some of the therapy options that a mental health counselor may consider.

Using expressive art and play therapy

Art and play can help children express themselves in a way that feels comfortable, especially when they have struggled to articulate their emotions verbally. A session could involve drawing, drama, poetry or movement to music. Children are encouraged to build better relationships, develop resilience and work through their past traumas. Often, children simply do not know the words they need to describe their emotions and cannot provide reasons for their behavior. Using art and play allows a young person to share their feelings in a way that feels safer and less pressurized.

Providing academic and social support

It’s often the case that mental health challenges impact a child’s academic and social success. Therapy can support children’s emotional wellbeing and make it easier for them to navigate friendships, school life and academic pursuits.

Part of this will involve exploring the child’s interests, discovering their strengths, and nurturing their abilities. The counselor will guide the young person, driving them to become more self-aware and conscious of their talents. Alongside self-discovery, therapists can help children who are dealing with the conflicting demands of school and their social lives. This could be achieved through teaching life skills such as stress management, planning and relaxation techniques.

Coping strategies and emotional regulation

At the best of times, children can struggle to regulate their emotions, which can make it difficult to cope in certain situations. Unfortunately, stress is a part of life for children, in the same way as it is for adults. Therefore, children’s mental health counselors can help young people develop coping strategies, which allow them to manage their feelings and behavior under pressure. By fostering healthy approaches such as breathing techniques, journaling, and positive self-talk, and encouraging the young person to use them regularly, emotional regulation becomes accessible and natural over time.

Gaining support from the young person’s family

Therapy can be more effective if a child’s family is involved, but the extent to which this happens will depend on the individual case. Parents might simply sit with children during a session to provide reassurance, or they might become the focus if the therapist believes that they need support interacting with their children. Even if older children choose to have therapy in a confidential setting, the counselor will try to get parents on board, as this can encourage children to attend regularly and adhere to the treatment program while at home.

Selecting the right therapy for children

Like adults, children can benefit in multiple ways from having mental health counseling. Over several sessions, they can learn healthy ways of managing stress, dealing with difficult feelings, and realizing their potential. For therapists, the key to successfully treating younger patients is finding the best fit for them as individuals in terms of counseling techniques and strategies.

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