Your child or teenager is seeing a psychotherapist for a mental health issue or diagnosis like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As a concerned and caring parent, you’re looking out for your child’s mental health and want to help them in whatever way you can. But you also have a lot of questions.
Parents often are unsure if they should be present when their children attend therapy sessions. Each clinician and psychotherapist has a different philosophy, so the answer may depend on the age and diagnosis of the child. In general, as the child gets older — anything over age 10 or 11 — a parent being in the room while the child is in psychotherapy becomes awkward and unnecessary. There is almost never a reason for a parent to accompany teenagers into the therapy session (although there will be some exceptions).
Individual therapy with a child or teenager is different than family therapy. Family therapy considers the entire context of the family, including all of its members (even those without identified problems). Family therapy sessions will usually have all members of the family attend. Individual therapy — the kind most often conducted with children and teens — is just that: one-on-one psychotherapy with the patient, in this case, your child or teenager.
Here are some more tips to consider:
- A child is a part of a family and that context should be considered. A first visit to the psychiatrist or other professional might include a chat with the child, another with the parents and a third with the entire group.
- Sometimes children open up when Mom and Dad are not around. This is especially true of teenagers and adolescents who may appreciate the privacy.
- Younger children might be anxious without parents around. Sometimes a therapist can play and talk with the child while Mom or Dad is reading nearby.
- Some behavioral problems can be addressed with the parent, instead of the child. The parent picks up tips and then tries them at home without saddling the child with the anxiety that might accompany an office visit.
- Some children work best in peer groups. Check with your healthcare provider about available local resources.
In short, you should generally expect that, after the first session, your presence will not be necessary in therapy for your child. Especially if your child is older. This is a normal part of childhood development, as children seek to differentiate themselves from you and need a certain level of privacy too.
As a parent, you will usually be kept informed as to the general issues your child is discussing in therapy. However, therapists will vary about how much detail they will share with you. Find a therapist and discuss this issue with them privately (without the child or teen in the room) to find a professional that offers a level of disclosure you’re comfortable with.
The therapist will discuss this level of disclosure with the teen or child patient, so there are no “secrets” about what is being shared with their parents. Trust is an important component of any therapeutic relationship, so as a parent, it is important you respect your child or teen’s privacy and don’t do or say anything to put that trust at risk.