Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if my child needs therapy or if it's just 'a phase'?
Children go through many phases in life and each child can respond differently to your parenting style or life events depending on their personality type and temperament. A child can and should struggle emotionally at times in order to learn new skills and learn to deal with their emotions. This helps them become a capable adult down the road. It becomes a problem if they do not pull through it successfully in a reasonable amount of time and if they do not respond to normal limits, guidance, or maturation. If their mood, behaviors, or other symptoms are getting in the way of relationships at home or school, or if they aren't able to function in normal roles, an assessment can give you an idea if it is a problem that you shouldn't ignore. A trained mental health clinician specializing in children and adolescents can guide you in what your child needs.
I want to be involved in my child's counseling?
You are the expert on your child. Parents can and should be involved in some capacity depending on the situation your family is facing. Typically, the younger the child, the greater the involvement. Since you are with your child 167 hours per week and therapy happens only one hour per week, it is imperative that you and your therapist work as a team to help your child. Playful Journey's clinicians offer Supportive Parenting Guidance as part of therapy. They will work with you to understand your child's needs and how to better help them at home. Nearly all issues can be addressed much easier with parent support at home.
What should I tell my child about counseling?
Counseling at Playful Journeys is fun! They get to have their own person to talk to and play with about their feelings. It is important to give them permission to talk about anything they want to, including parents, siblings, friends, school, past events, fears or worries, boy/girl friends, etc. You can tell them its kind of like a "Feelings Doctor". Playful Journey's clinicians will use toys such as sandtray, figurines, puppets, painting, art, games, fun activities, and crafts to help your child express their big feelings. Adolescents enjoy the use of music, poetry, and other expressive arts to work through issues.
My child is resistent to coming to therapy. How can I convince them to try?
You can talk to them about how much you care about them and how important it is for them to feel better. Sometimes it works to ask them if they have any ideas about who they think might be a good person to talk to instead of a therapist. (Friends are not typically the best option, however) It might work to ask them what would be bad about going to therapy to discover what their perceptions and worries about it might be. Try to address those concerns. Showing them different therapist's websites and including them in on the decision might be helpful. You can ask them to go and meet a therapist and see if they like him or her. Sometimes it helps to ask them to try it for 3 sessions. It is good to use a doctor metaphor. We wouldn't let our child go with a broken arm or a deep cut without medical care because parents are not the experts in that area. Or taking your car into the mechanic, or fixing the plumbing. If there are safety concerns, such as suicidal ideation or self-harm, be more directive about going. Taking your child to therapy might prevent the need for hospitalization or residential treatment.
What happens on the first visit?
If your child is a teenager, they will be asked if they want to come back by themselves or if they want their parent/guardian to come back with them. Younger children typically want parents to come back for the first session. The clinician will go over what therapy is and what to expect from therapy. The parent and child learns the 'rules' of therapy that make counseling work for kids. The clinician then asks the child questions, getting to know them, what's important to them, what they like, what they don't like, and things they might want to work on. It typically takes one to four sessions to complete the assessment and come up with treatment goals.
Does therapy work and how will we know when we are done?
There are no guarantees about therapy. Much of it depends on the relationship that your child has with their therapist. A good connection helps kids to feel safe and be able to open up which is critical in therapy. You and your child will work with your therapist to make treatment goals and objectives. When the goals are acheived, the child decides if they are done or if they want to make new goals. Sometimes children are 'done for now' but might need to return to therapy when they reach a different developmental stage.
My child is depressed/anxious. Do they need medication?
There is much conflicting research on the effectiveness of medication. Playful Journey's believes that medication is a last resort and referrals are only made for 4 reasons: 1) Harm to self or others that is not resolving in therapy; 2) The child's symptoms are making them unable to function in their life roles at home or school; 3) The child's self-esteem is severely impacted; and 4) The child and therapist are stuck in therapy due to the child's symptoms. Playful Journey's makes every effort and has had remarkable success in using alternatives to medications such as neurofeedback, coping skills, meditation, yoga, essential oils, and making changes in the family and school for the child.
My child had a traumatic event happen. Won't they just forget it?
We are learning more and more about emotions and memories and how they actually alter the neurobiology of the brain. Even memories that are preverbal, have remarkable impact on future behaviors. When events are very scary or upsetting and we feel helpless or threatened, they are imprinted on our amygdala. The amygdala's job is to keep us alive. It will remember memories with all of our 5 senses, 6 including the emotional experience. So when any smell, sound, sight, touch, or taste happens that triggers the memory, our brain is designed to go into fight, flight or freeze in order to survive even though the event happened in the past. Our brain remembers it as if it is NOW so that we can react and get away. If children do not work through upsetting events, they will continue to bother them and they may or may not say anything. Their behaviors, however, can speak volumes. They may be fearful of being alone. They may have nightmares. They may be promiscuous. They may be aggressive. Often these behaviors get them in trouble, when actually they need someone to help them understand and cope with what was likely buried in their brain and hearts.
What are 'traumatic events'?
Traumatic events can be anything that overwhelms our central nervous system. For children, that can be a variety of things that adults might not consider. Obvious trauma is physical or sexual abuse and domestic violence. Childhood neglect and emotional abuse can also impact children's brains in the same manner as it is scary for children to feel that they may be abandoned by their caregiver. Children's brains are designed to attach to others in order to survive so any threat to this is traumatic. Normal life problems can also be traumatic such as divorce, death, loss of a pet, car accidents, dog bites, or multiple changes in a child's life. Finally, there has been much research about bullying. Bullying that lasts for a prolonged period of time and the child doesn't have the self-worth to withstand it or the support system to deal with it effectively can develop poor self-image and even severe anxiety or depression.
What if my child is suicidal?
If your child tells you or someone else that he or she is suicidal or is making self-harm gestures it is imperative to get your child assessed immediately. You should transport your child to Providence Psych Emergency Department in Anchorage or the Emergency Room at Mat-su Regional Hospital. If you cannot transport them by yourself, please contact 911 for support. If your child's therapist has availability and can see him or her, it would may be an option to have your child assessed in the office. No matter what option you choose, it would be important to let your child's therapist know what is happening. Playful Journey's clinicians are not available after hours but will return your call as soon as they get back into the office.
What is EMDR?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and is a technique to be used to resolve trauma. It can also be used to improve skills and to strengthen one's internal resources. A client holds a memory, a negative belief they hold, and the feelings associated with it and that will target the spot in the brain that the memory is stored. The use of bi-lateral stimulation helps the left and right hemisphere of the brain reprocess the memory and decrease the overwhelming emotional and physical response to the memory. The bi-lateral stimulation can be achieved by the use of music that has bi-lateral tones incorporated in it or the use of "thera-tappers" which vibrate slightly while holding them in each hand. A great resource to learn about EMDR is www.emdria.org. Francine Shapiro, PhD is the founder of EMDR and wrote a great book for people to learn about EMDR and to see if it is right for them: Getting Past Your Past. EMDR has 2 levels of training and a certification process.