Many children and young people face social, emotional, or behavioral challenges that their parents find difficult to manage on their own, and help from a therapist through psychotherapy can often make a difference and assist the child or young person and their family to increase their communication, coping, or problem-solving skills; therefore, they are better able to handle future problems independently and successfully. The child or young person may also receive emotional support, resolve conflicts with people, understand feelings and problems, and try out new solutions to old problems.
Psychotherapy refers to a variety of techniques and methods used to help children and young people who are experiencing difficulties with their social interactions, emotions, or behavior. Although there are different types of psychotherapy, each relies on communication as the basic tool for bringing about change in a person’s feelings and behaviors. Psychotherapy may involve an individual child, a group of children, a family, or multiple families. For children and young people, playing, drawing, building, pretending, as well as talking, are important ways of sharing feelings and resolving problems.
The common signs and reasons that children and young people may benefit from seeking help include: developmental delay in speech, language, or toilet training; learning or attention problems; behavioral problems; a significant drop in grades; episodes of sadness, tearfulness, or depression; social withdrawal or isolation; being the victim of bullying or bullying other children; decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities; overly aggressive behavior ; sudden changes in appetite; insomnia or increased sleepiness; excessive school absenteeism or tardiness; mood swings; bereavement; custody evaluations; development of or an increase in physical complaints despite a normal physical exam by a doctor; management of a serious, acute, or chronic illness; signs of alcohol, drug, or other substance use; problems with transitions; and therapy following sexual, physical, or emotional abuse or other traumatic events.
Families play an important role in children’s and young people’s healing processes. Sometimes children and young people develop problems as a way of signaling that there is something wrong in the family. Other times the entire family becomes distressed because the child or young person’s problems are so disruptive. In all cases, children, young people, and families heal faster when they work together in treatment.
A psychological assessment may be indicated when there is a question about possible mental health diagnoses and/or when information is needed about the child or young person’s cognitive, academic, or adaptive skill levels. Assessment results lead to specific recommendations directly related to a child’s unique profile of strengths and weaknesses.
A comprehensive psychological assessment generally includes information from multiple sources, including parents and teachers, and an evaluation of a child’s social, behavioral, emotional, and/or cognitive and academic abilities or aptitudes. For children and young people, direct evaluation may include a series of tasks designed to assess different skill areas or psychological functioning; however, the format of a child’s assessment should be designed based on the best individual fit for a child.
A psychological assessment often includes a diagnostic interview, a cognitive test, a standardized test of academic abilities, neuropsychological batteries, assessments of developmental delays, and/or behavior or symptom rating scales, although many other measures may also be included. Behavioral observations are a critical part of the evaluation and may be conducted in the clinic and/or school setting. In addition, if a child has previously been evaluated or has any relevant medical or educational records, it is helpful to provide this documentation to the examiner conducting the assessment for review. Parents play a very essential role in their child’s life; therefore, they are very important to the work of the psychologist. The information they provide is crucial to how the psychologist moves forward with a psychological assessment.
Following assessment, a feedback meeting with the psychologist is good practice. This session is usually conducted with just the parent or caregivers without the presence of the child. During this appointment, the evaluator should review the results of the assessment, explain the implications of the findings, and provide a series of recommendations. Parents and caregivers should feel free to ask any questions or express any concerns during this session.
Following psychological assessment, parents or caregivers should also be provided with a written report that includes the results and the psychologist’s recommendations. This report will help parents and caregivers to understand the findings and work on the “next steps” to support their child. This report is also very useful for clear communication with the child’s school or medical providers.
In conclusion, children and young people are different from adults. Physical, emotional, and mental differences in maturity necessitate specialized expertise to achieve an optimal outcome. For this reason, it is essential for the parents or primary caregivers to choose providers who have both broad and in-depth clinical experience with children and young people and have professional knowledge in typical and atypical child development when seeking services during children’s and young people’s psychological journey.
Dr. Ruchi Yang earned a Ph. D. from Ganon University (Pennsylvania, US) and an M.S. in Counseling Psychology from State University of New York, Albany. She is a licensed psychologist and US registered play therapist-supervisor. Dr. Yang has more than ten years of experience as a psychologist, primarily with children and adolescents with learning difficulties, ADHD, ODD, disruptive behaviors, negative attention-seeking behaviors, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, difficulty expressing thoughts/feelings, adjustment issues, grief, parental divorce/separation, low frustration tolerance, anger problems, parenting issues, parent-child relationship problems, trauma, poor decision-making skills, non-compliance behaviors, social skill deficits, relational issues, autism spectrum disorder, and limited coping skills. Dr. Yang provides individual, group, family, and vocational counseling; comprehensive psychological assessments (i.e. cognitive, academic, attention, executive function skills, social, emotional, personality, adaptive, developmental, & behavioral functioning); and crisis intervention/ risk assessment. She utilizes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and behavioral therapy approaches. She also incorporates child-centered play therapy, cognitive behavioral play therapy, filial therapy, and child parent relationship therapy intervention in treatment. Dr. Yang is a member of the Association for Play Therapy (APT) and graduated from the APT Leadership Academy in 2012. She has served on several APT committees and task forces. She has also previously supervised graduate level clinicians. Languages: English, Mandarin