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A Guide to Understanding Therapy For Parents

When should your child go to therapy or counselling?

Everyone has trouble at some point in life. No one escapes problems. Your child/teen might be experiencing a situation he/she cannot solve on his/her own. You might have had something happen to you, and/or your family may have had to deal with a crisis.

As a parent, you are also learning daily how to nurture and provide for your child. You have to make more complicated choices, defend your choices with your children and other family members, and learn to work through difficult relationship problems. There are many reasons for problems and it is sometimes difficult to deal with your child's problems on your own. At times like these, therapy might be helpful. It might help you and your child/teen work through some of the situations both of you are facing. It may also help you and your child/teen learn the skills to help you both face future problems.

Oh, yes, there will always be problems but together you and your teen/child can learn to become very good problem solvers.

Below are a few questions you can ask your child to help you gain some idea if therapy may be needed:

  • Has your child or teen felt sad, frustrated, and/or lonely for more than two weeks?
  • Has your child or teen felt angry, annoyed and/or restless for more than two weeks?
  • Has your child or teen noticed changes in his/her sleep or eating patterns? (i.e. eating less or eating more, sleeping less or sleeping more)
  • Has your child or teen experienced a major problem or event at home, at school, or in your community?
  • Is  your child or teen having trouble talking about difficult thoughts and feelings with you, your family or friends?
  • Are these difficult thoughts and feelings affecting his or her schoolwork, and/or relationships with family or friends?
  • Are these difficult thoughts and feelings affecting how your child or teen thinks about himself/herself?  

If your child has answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then it might help to talk with a therapist or counsellor.

What is a Therapist or Counsellor?

One of the questions I hear a lot is “What exactly is a therapist?”

There are many types of therapists or professionals who work with teens and/or their families:

A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor (M.D.) who has graduated from medical school with extra training in psychiatry. A psychiatrist in New Brunswick sees teens when medication is needed to help solve their problems. Such medications, for example, help teens deal with depression, anxiety, attention, aggression, and/or mood changes. Sometimes teens need more than just therapy to solve their problems. A child and adolescent psychiatrist works with you, your family, and your therapist to assist you in dealing with the problems you are solving.

A Psychologist is an individual who has graduated from university and graduate school with a master’s degree or doctorate in psychology and are licensed to practice. He/she will have “L. Psych. or Licensed Psychologist” after his/her name. A psychologist is well trained to provide therapy and, if required, qualified to give special testing to understand certain problems.

Social Worker
A Social Worker is an individual who has graduated from university and graduate school with a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in social work and are registered to practice. He/she will have “MSW or Registered Social Worker” after his/her name. A social worker provides counselling.

Counsellors often have a degree or graduate degree and it can be from many different fields. Many counsellors belong to the Canadian Counselling Association or the CCA. There is no legislative body in New Brunswick who governs counsellors so it is best to ask the individual counsellor about his/her education and experience.

What type of questions should you ask a therapist before you decide ‘who’ to see?

Your child or teen has a problem seem so he or she should see a therapist with whom all of you feel comfortable. Before committing to a therapist, do not hesitate to ask the therapist a few questions such as:

  • Do you feel comfortable treating the problems I am experiencing?   
  • What is your experience in treating these problems?   
  • What is your therapeutic approach?   
  • How does your approach work?   
  • What kind of outcome can I expect?   

It is important to ask these questions since it is very normal to feel a bit uncomfortable in the first few sessions. You need to know that any sense of anxiety, nervousness, and/or self-consciousness is a result of starting therapy and not the therapist you have chosen. These feelings will decrease and you will become more relaxed as you work with your therapist.

What is Therapy?

Therapy is a safe place for you talk about the problems you are having and learn to solve them. Your therapist will listen, observe, ask questions, teach skills, and help you decide how you can solve your problems. Your therapist will not judge you and will not look down on you. You and your therapist will build a relationship of mutual trust and respect. Like in any good relationship, there will be times you agree and do not agree with your therapist. There will be times you will not like what your therapist says. You may not even like your therapist during these periods. These ups and downs in therapy are very normal. Your therapist is not involved in your problem to agree with you but to help you solve your problem.

What does therapy look like for your child?

1.  Your therapist will welcome you and your child to your first session. During the first session, your therapist will talk with your child, explain confidentiality and its limits and he/she will ask questions and collect any required forms. Therapy sessions usually last 50 to 60 minutes. It is important for you as a parent, a family member, or guardian to be with your child as he/she begins therapy. Many unsolved problems involve family. It is important to provide a lot of support to you during your child's time in therapy.

2.   In the beginning, your therapist will ask lots of questions so he or she can understand the problems he/she is trying to solve. During this stage of therapy, your therapist may or may not give you some psychological assessments to fill out. These assessments may be needed to help you and your therapist understand the problems you are experiencing.

3.  Your therapist will talk with your child about what he or she thinks is wrong, what approach may be taken to work on the problems, and will decide if any other family members or friends need to be included in the therapy session.

4.  One very important step in therapy is goal setting. Your therapist will work with you and your child to create your goals for therapy and help you to visualize what your life will look like when he/she has reached those goals. Examples of goals may be, “feel happier about going to school,” “feel more comfortable in social situations,” “feel more confident in talking to family,” or “going to more school outings and feeling comfortable.”

5.  In the therapy session your child will talk about his/her problem, learn skills to solve the problem, and decide what he/she will work on in the coming week or two. Your child will also review the goals as he/she continues to work in your sessions to see if you are moving closer to reaching them. Remember, solving problems takes time.


How Long Will Therapy Last?

Usually, your child will see the therapist once a week for the first few sessions. As your child starts to reach his goals, the time between his sessions will become longer. When he reaches his goals, it will be time to stop therapy and try his skills on his own. In most situations, therapy is not forever. Talk with your therapist to decide on the number of sessions. In certain situations, some problems need a specific length of time and in other situations, it will depend on how quickly you are able to reach your goals.

How Can I Find a Therapist/Counsellor?

There are many individuals who can help you find a therapist. Speak with your parents, guardian, doctor, nurse practitioner, guidance teacher, coach, youth leader, or pastor. They can help you with a referral and begin the process.

Payment and Insurance Considerations

If you are using private health insurance find out what professionals are covered and if you will need a prescription from your family doctor before you begin. Some private health plans do require a prescription and some do not. It is best to check. You will also want to determine the amount of your coverage. Some plans cover a specific amount of sessions while some will reimburse up to a certain amount of money.

If you are using an EAP (Employment Assistance Program) you will want to check to see how many sessions are covered, are they just solution focused, or will they support your child/teen if another type of therapy (e.g. Cognitive Behavior Therapy) is required to address the issues. Quite often EAPs will provide you with a list of professionals or make the call to a professional whom they cover.

Keep in mind that all fees associated with accessing therapy with a psychologist are income tax deduct able. Click here to learn how to receive this tax credit.

You must remember that you do have choices.

If you would like a certain professional like a psychologist or social worker, then be specific. If you have a name of a professional you would like your child/teen to see, advocate for this professional. You need to remember this is your choice and it is for your most precious gift: Your child/teen.

If you have read this guide and you feel like you need help with your problem please do not hesitate to ask for help.

You can email Anne at or call 506-434-5159.

If you feel that your problem is an emergency please proceed to your local emergency department immediately.