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What about therapy for kids? – Fighting for children’s mental health

Ryan, Grace. “3 Things You Should Know about Child & Adolescent Mental Health.” Mental Health Innovation Network.
Paris Goodyear-Brown delivers an amazing Ted Talk on the power of play therapy and how it helps children tell their stories of trauma. Disclaimer: She discusses in detail several of her patients ‘hard stories’, which include topics of sexual abuse, trauma, suicide, and more. Viewer discretion is advised.

Noticing the signs: mental illness in children

It can be challenging to notice when a child might be struggling with a mental illness. They often express what they are feeling in ways that we cannot understand, and fears of stigma and cost of treatment can often prevent parents from seeking futher care for their children. Here are some of the signs that may show if a child is struggling with a mental illness:

  • Having difficulties at school.
  • Bullying other children. 
  • Attempting to injure themselves. 
  • Avoidance of friends and family. 
  • Frequent mood swings. 
  • Experiencing intense emotions, such as extreme fear or angry outbursts. 
  • Lack in energy/motivation. 
  • Increase in physical complaints. 
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Eating significantly more or less than usual. 

If you suspect that a child might have a mental illness or disorder, voice your concern. Talk to their parents. If you are worried about your own child, seek medical help. 

The most common mental illnesses in children are:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression and other mood disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia

Psychotherapy for children

Psychotherapy is a form of psichiatric treatment that, in the case where children are the patients, involve therapeutic conversations between a therapist, the child, and their family. There are several types and techniques of psychotherapy for children. Some examples are below:

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) invloves an examination of the child’s behavior and/or thoughts. CBT therapists work with their patients to replace their harmful thoughts and behaviors with more appropriate ones.
  • Family Therapy focuses on positively helping the family function by examining things like communication and support amongst family members. 
  • Parent Child Ineraction Therapy (PCIT) is helpful for parents and children who struggle with behavioral issues through coaching sessions, where the therapist guide the parent’s actions in order to positively change the parent-child relationship. 
  • Play Therapy utilizes toys, games, drawings, and more to help a child recognize and verbalize their feelings. The psychotherapists interpret the child’s behavior and use of play materials to figure out what they are feeling or struggling with.

Facing the stigma and learning to advocate for the young

“We need to teach our kids that mental illnesses are just like physical illnesses and deserve the same kind of care and compassion”

– Michelle Obama

The first thing we can do to help anyone who is struggling with a mental illness, is to battle the stigma behind it. Whether that is hosting informative presentations in schools with accredited psychologists and psychotherapists, or reaching out to family members and friends, we all have our part in diminishing the stigmatization of mental illnesses in our communities. This might help some parents acknowledge their child’s struggle, or make a child feel safer and accepted regardless of their struggles.

If you work with children frequently or if you have your own, be attentive. Have you noticed any drastic changes in a child’s mood or personality? Are there any warning signs that may tell of a mental illness? Consult medical professionals if you think something is wrong.  

Final thoughts and book recommendations

Lastly, I’ll leave you with some book reccomendations if you are interested in looking further into how children with mental illnesss are treated. Below is Virginia Axline’s book Play Therapy, which is a practical book on how to turn therapy into play for children, but also just includes valuable information for anyone who works with children on a daily basis. I’ve also added Dr. Winnicott’s The Piggle, which is a case study of the psychoanalisis of a young girl who Dr. Winnicott treats thorugh therapy. The book offers its readers invaluable knowledge about the inner works of child psychotherapy. 

Thank you for your time spent reading through my presentation! Please feel free to leave any comments or feeback below. What ideas has this presentation generated in your head? 

Resources Consulted and Cited

Aacap. “Psychotherapy for Children and Adolescents: Different Types.” Psychotherapy for Children and Adolescents: Different Types, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Apr. 2019, www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Psychotherapies-For-Children-And-Adolescents-086.aspx.

Casado-Frankel, Tomás. “Child’s Play: How Play Therapy Works.” Psychology Today, 18 Jan. 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/contemporary-psychoanalysis-in-action/201601/child-s-play-how-play-therapy-works.

“Early Childhood Mental Health.” Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 17 Mar. 2015, developingchild.harvard.edu/science/deep-dives/mental-health/.

Hartland-Rowe, Lydia. “CAPT in the Early Years.” Association of Child Psychotherapists, Sept. 2011.

Newman, Susan. “13 Signs of Potential Mental Illness in a Child.” Psychology Today, 30 Sept. 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/singletons/201609/13-signs-potential-mental-illness-in-child.

Ryan, Grace. “3 Things You Should Know about Child & Adolescent Mental Health.” Mental Health Innovation Network.

“Worried about Your Child’s Mental Health?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 26 Feb. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/mental-illness-in-children/art-20046577.

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COMMENTS: 11
  1. April 23, 2020 by Jana

    Hi Andrea! I find your topic very important and also quite relevant to me personally. I have really enjoyed your presentation, especially the practical recommendations. I wonder, how would you personally approach a parent of a child you are concerned about? I know this might be a very sensitive topic for some of the parents and an inappropriate it might cause them to enclose or be overprotective of their child.

    • April 26, 2020 by Andrea

      Hi Jana! I hadn’t thought of that, but I agree that approaching a parent with concerns about their child’s mental health can be hard to do in the right way. I found this website with (what I think is good) advice on how to talk to parents with concerns about their child’s behaviors. I hope it serves useful! Here it is: https://www.stopitnow.org/ohc-content/tip-sheet-15

  2. April 23, 2020 by Alek

    Hi Andrea! This was so informative and well-organized! I found the play therapy ted talk super interesting. I wonder how much a parenting style weighs in on the risk of mental illness?

    • April 25, 2020 by Andrea

      Hi Alek! That’s a very good question. I did some quick research and found that of course, parenting does really have an effect on a child’s mental health. For example, a child of parents who have a severe mental illness is more likely to experience greater levels of emotional, psychological, and behavioral problems than a child with parents who do not have a severe mental illness. Abusive parents may also increase the chance that their child develops a mental illness. I hope this answers your question, even briefly, as I know that there is a lot more to consider for the topic of parent’s influence in their child’s mental health.

  3. April 24, 2020 by Seva Kelly

    Hi Andrea! There was a lot of really good information here! I was wondering if certain therapy is more effective for certain illnesses? Good job!

    • April 25, 2020 by Andrea

      Hi Seva! To answer your question, in my research I had found that Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is often used to treat depression and anxiety. CBT is also used to treat schizophrenia, along with other types of family therapy. But generally, treatment is very personalized, as what might work for others might not work for you. If you know of other illness-specific types of therapy, let me know!

  4. April 24, 2020 by Sierra Martin

    Hey Andrea! This is such an interesting topic, great work! I loved how you included book recommendations at the very end. I’m definitely going to check out “The Piggle!” Have you ever read any of Torey Hayden’s books? Those also go deep into the nuances of child psychotherapy– the narrative voice can be a little bit annoying sometimes but the overall stories are usually pretty good. Congrats again on a job well-done!

    • April 25, 2020 by Andrea

      I haven’t heard of Torey Hayden, but I’ll make sure to check her out! Thank you for the recommendation 🙂

  5. April 24, 2020 by Macy

    Hi Andrea, I loved the infographics that you provided and I think that this was a very important topic for discussion. I also liked the Ted Talk a lot. Everything in this project helped contribute to your purpose and great job!

    • April 25, 2020 by Andrea

      Thank you!

  6. April 26, 2020 by Isabell

    Hello Andrea, I really liked this presentation and think it brings up some very good discussions. I think the different aspects fo it also helps build the argument like the signs in a child, the negative impact, and the positive therapy that can help. What is one thing that parents can do to make their children more comfortable with talking about their mental health?

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