Searching for the best therapist for your child can be challenging. The New York area has the highest concentration of therapists in the world. How do you know who to choose? Which therapist is the best for your child? As one parent recently said in my office, “There are thousands of therapists in this city. By the time I found the right therapist for my kid, I felt like I needed therapy.”

Social problems, learning difficulties, and family disruptions are among the most popular reasons for contacting a therapist. Here are some tips on gathering referrals and choosing the right therapist for your child:

Contact your school’s guidance counselor. School counselors keep a list of therapists who are great with children and parents.

Only consult therapists who specialize in youth and have an extensive and successful history of working with young people. Experienced school counselors have an excellent grasp of child and adolescent therapists in your area and can provide you with reliable referrals.

Attend free parenting workshops or lectures. Schools, therapy institutes, parenting organizations, and youth centers often offer free lectures and workshops for parents. Listening to therapists discuss their work and explain the therapeutic process can serve as a wonderful introduction to the world of therapy, and it won’t cost you a dime. You’ll also benefit from the questions other parents ask.

If you enjoy a particular therapist’s presentation, put him or her on your list to contact for a consultation.

Get a referral from a trusted friend. A friend who has had a positive experience with a child and adolescent therapist is your most reliable source for a referral. Find out how the process unfolded. What’s the therapist like? Are both your children experiencing similar symptoms? Does the therapist schedule sessions with parents? Does he or she accept insurance?

Investigating your friend’s experience will save you a lot of time and energy, and will point you in the right direction.

Choosing a Therapist

There are plenty of therapists to choose from, so before you decide, here are a few tips to help guide you through the process:

Ask questions. Before making an appointment, here’s a checklist of questions to ask on the phone:

  • What’s your background and training working with children?
  • How often do you meet with parents?
  • Will you be in contact with my child’s teacher or guidance counselor?
  • How long do children usually stay in therapy with you?
  • What are your thoughts about medication?
  • Can I speak with a parent whose child has worked with you?

Prepare for your consultation. Before you set up a consultation, prepare a list of concerns about your child. Bring along any educational evaluations or classroom reports you have. Consider your child’s long-term history. Are these struggles recent? Have there been any significant changes or disruptions in your family?

No one knows your child better than you, therefore the more information you gather on your child, the better. Partnering with your child’s therapist and working together is the express route to helping your child.

Consult three therapists before choosing one. Therapists have different styles and approaches to working with children. For example, some therapists work collaboratively with parents, while others prefer working with children alone.

Take your time and interview at least three therapists. You wouldn’t hire just any babysitter for your child, would you? Many eager parents hire the first therapist they meet and regret it later. Don’t rush. Be patient. Trust your instincts.

Learn the differences in credentials. Social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists — what’s the difference? Good question. Although they all are referred to as therapists and all have licenses, they have vastly different training and unique specialties. Here’s a quick glance at their qualifications:

  • Clinical social workers have master’s degrees in social work and are generally trained in empowerment and advocacy. Social workers often have a practical approach to problem-solving and seek conflict resolution through talk or play therapy, counseling and group work.
  • Psychiatrists and psychopharmacologists have medical degrees and primarily prescribe medication. If you’re looking for antidepressants or medications for problems with attention or anxiety, these doctors are for you.
  • Psychologists have doctorate degrees in psychology and provide psychological and educational testing, in addition to talk therapy. Learning and perceptional differences, such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, or auditory processing difficulties are identified and recommendations are made. Recommendations could include medication, individual or group therapy, a specialized school or additional academic support.

Types of Therapy

There are dozens of different types of therapy for children and teenagers. Here’s a short list of the most common.

  • Play therapy. Play therapists use toys, action figures, games, and art to help small children express themselves, and describe their fears and concerns. Play therapy works best for pre-K or elementary school-aged children who are struggling with emotional difficulties.
  • Group therapy. Group therapy is ideal for children or teens who suffer from social problems, such as extreme shyness, bullying or social isolation. Group therapy helps build social competence and resilience.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT is the most popular treatment for children who struggle with attention problems, phobias and obsessions. CBT is time-limited and uses a variety of techniques, such as relaxation exercises, personal diaries, and computerized programs to target and change specific behavior and mood problems.
  • Family therapy. Families experience all kinds of disruptions, such as divorce, separation, illness, the death of a loved one, or economic hardship. Family therapists conduct family meetings to help all family members express their concerns and frustrations with the goal of reestablishing positive communication and mutual respect.
  • Individual therapy. Who doesn’t feel better after talking out their problems? Nearly all therapists have training in talk therapy; however, make sure the therapist you choose has specific training and experience working with parents, children and teenagers.

For nearly 20 years, baffled and frustrated parents have visited my office seeking advice and guidance. Parents who are proactive about getting their children help always win in the end. Their children get better faster and spend less time in therapy. Why wait any longer and worry? There’s plenty of help out there. Consulting with a child and adolescent therapist can put your mind at ease so you can get back to what parenting is really about: Enjoying life with your kids.

Child in therapy photo available from Shutterstock