Therapy and Counselling for Kids and Teens
Children's mental health
Children are faced with the tough task of navigating an adult world full of expectations, hopes, and fears that may not always be appropriate for their stage of development and that are not always consistent between parents, teachers, and other influential people in their lives. Additionally, there is a greater scrutiny of childhood behaviour and mental health than there has been at any point in history. This scrutiny is both helpful and unhelpful. The greater scrutiny of childhood mental health means that more children with legitimate mental health concerns are able to get the attention that they need. The not so helpful side is that the range of what constitutes "normal" behaviour is getting narrower and some children and adolescents are being diagnosed and treated for mental health concerns that may be better understood and addressed through systemic interventions (e.g. family therapy, school curriculum, community resources).
Understanding child and adolescent behaviour
As family therapists we have been trained to understand children's behaviour as an expression of their individual characteristics (e.g. personality, biology, belief systems) and also as an expression of family dynamics and larger systemic influences (e.g. cultural messages, education, peer relationships, financial stresses on families, community dynamics). For example, a kid may act out aggressively because she has difficulties regulating emotions, because she is stressed and angry from the conflicts that she has witnessed between other family members, because she is facing harassment or discrimination from peers at school, or some combination.
Therapy can be fun
Although we will work with children individually on occasion, our preference is to work with children as part of family therapy, and adapt the therapy process to involve more creative and developmentally appropriate activities. These activities, including drawing and playing games, allow kids and families to speak about topics that kids are unlikely to talk about if asked directly. These types of activities can make therapy more fun and interactive for adults, too. Even if your child's difficulties are rooted in a biologically based mental health condition, the family is the best and most immediate resource that your child has for learning to cope effectively and thrive. Family therapy can be a forum for everyone to rally together to create the optimal conditions to support your child. Please see our page on family therapy for more information.
Therapy for teenagers
Teenagers are a slightly different story. While family therapy may still be the best approach for working with issues that teenagers are encountering, there are additional circumstances where seeing a teenager individually may be helpful. Part of the task of an adolescent is to start carving out their own worldview and learning to be more independent of their family. Because of this, teenagers may be reluctant to speak frankly about everything that is going on in front of their parents, especially if they fear that there will be negative consequences for them if they do. While important safety concerns that may come up with teenagers in individual therapy would need to be brought to the attention of the parents or legal guardians, there are opportunities to navigate some of these difficult topics independently and come to agreements about how to bring them to the family in a way that still respects their autonomy.
Support for teenagers and their families
There are a myriad of concerns that teenagers and their families are faced with that can be quite frightening to navigate without support. These include disordered eating, cutting and other forms of self-harm, suicidal ideation, drugs, alcohol, risk-taking, sexual activity, and problems at school.
Therapy models for younger people
When working with kids and teenagers individually, we tend to draw primarily on Solution Focused Brief Therapy and Narrative Therapy, while integrating any necessary practical skill building for emotional regulation, communication, and safety planning. Developmentally appropriate play therapy activities will also be included with younger kids. We have found Narrative Therapy and Solution Focused Brief Therapy especially powerful models with younger people. Both of these models draw on client strengths, insight, and understanding in a way that is very helpful for maintaining a good therapeutic relationship and for inviting engagement in creating change.