Seeing a child’s mood deteriorate over time can make us feel helpless, but knowing where to start with getting them counselling can feel just as difficult. With many different approaches to counselling, it's hard to know which therapist and approach is best for them.
Counsellors can be trained in a variety of different models, with many having a particular specialism or way of working. To help you decide which type of counselling might be best, here’s a snapshot of some of the most common types of counselling and what types of issues they may be suited for:
The person-centred approach to counselling was founded in the 1940s by Carl Rogers. It is a humanistic approach which means it focuses on the individual, their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. The goal of person-centred counselling is to allow an individual the space to explore what they would like to, letting the child take a lead in the sessions. It is based on the belief that they are the expert when it comes to their life and experiences.
Through the therapeutic relationship a person-centred counsellor will be genuine, offer acceptance, empathy and understanding without judgement. They are not there to fix the problems but encourage the child to explore their feelings for themselves and work towards reaching their full potential. A person-centred counsellor will help a child look at what resources and support are available to them, helping them to build the self-confidence to find solutions for themselves. Person-centred counselling can be short term or long term work and is helpful for a range of issues like depression, bereavement, self esteem, anxiety, relationship issues and change.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an approach to counselling that looks at how your thoughts impact your feelings and behaviour. It aims to identify negative thinking patterns and look at practical solutions to break away from them in order to feel better. Rather than focusing on the past, CBT instead looks at the present issues, trying to relieve the symptoms a person is experiencing. Therapists will look at how to challenge negative thinking, looking at what beliefs and assumptions an individual has about themselves which are affecting their feelings and behaviour.
The aim of CBT is to find the best techniques to help each child cope with their feelings and have a better quality of life. This might include things like: relaxation techniques, record-keeping, breathing exercises, identifying and challenging thoughts. It is a shorter term approach to counselling and can be helpful for issues such as anxiety, depression, OCD, anger, sleep, and phobias.
Play is a powerful way for children to engage with the world and also tell their stories. Quite often children don’t have the ability or language to express what they are feeling and yet through play they can be understood. Not only can children express themselves through play but they can also find comfort and exploration that helps them to manage any complex emotions they might be feeling. Play therapy then, is an approach to counselling that harnesses the power of play. It helps children to access thoughts and feelings they might not realise they have, whilst also learning new skills for coping with these emotions.
A play therapist will have a range of resources such as sand, arts, craft, figures, puppets and instruments and will encourage the child to choose what they’d like to play with. Play therapy doesn’t just happen in person though, therapists can use online play resources and creative tools as a new and exciting way to allow children to express themselves through play.
The therapist isn’t there to interpret or judge what the child is doing but instead to facilitate their play and join in if the child would like them to. Play therapy can be helpful for lots of issues such as trauma, bereavement, relationship issues, depression and anxiety. It can also be especially helpful for children who struggle to communicate how they are feeling or those with ADHD or ASD.
Similar to play therapy, art therapy uses creative means to explore and express emotion. Sometimes art therapy combines talking and creative activites to help children find ways to communicate what they are experiencing, relieve stress and improve their mental wellbeing. A child doesn’t have to be good at art in order to engage with this type of therapy but just willing to engage creatively whether in person or virtually.
For children who struggle to communicate, art provides a way for their internal experiences to be seen and heard. This can be through painting, drawing, sand, sculpture, even music and movement. Through the different creations, a therapist will help your child to gain insight, awareness and understanding of themselves and what they might be feeling. Art therapy can be particularly helpful for trauma, loss, relational difficulties, change, anxiety and depression.
Solution-focused therapy is another humanistic approach to counselling that believes the child is the expert on themselves and their experiences. It also affirms that individuals have within them the knowledge of what would make their situation better; they just need help in order to discover this. It is the therapist's job to help explore this and put into action any changes they’d like to make. It's a short-term approach to counselling which focuses on setting goals and figuring out how to achieve them.
The solution-focused approach is future-orientated and so doesn’t dwell on the past, instead it strives to look forward to how things can be different, with the child setting their own goals. It focuses on what a child can do, what is in their control, rather than on what they can’t. This approach to counselling is particularly helpful for children who feel stuck in something, or those who have a tendency to look backwards. It’s also helpful for children who have a very clear idea of what change they would like to see in their life or for children who’s issues are within their control. It can be helpful for things such as anxiety, self-esteem, relationship issues and change.
Family therapy, also known under the term systemic therapy, is an approach to counselling that focuses on the relationships between family members rather than just one individual’s thoughts and feelings. Everyone within the family gets the chance to explore what they are experiencing and their individual feelings in a safe environment.
A family therapist will help the group to look at deep patterns that exist within the family whether that's conflict, communication, behaviour, roles, beliefs or expectations. The whole family is worked with by the therapist so that no one is isolated and they are encouraged to identify problems that are having an impact on the whole family so that any restoration or reconciliation can take place.
The aim of family therapy is ultimately for stronger relationships, clear communication and healthier patterns for the future. This type of therapy is best suited for families facing any issue that is having an impact on the group as a whole, where all members of the family are on board and wanting help.
Psychodynamic therapy is an approach that aims to understand a person’s current feelings and behaviours in light of their past experiences. It believes that there is an importance to a person’s unconscious and previous experiences that impacts their behaviour today. The therapeutic relationship is very important in psychodynamic therapy and the child must feel accepted by the therapist and that they can trust them. It is also essential so that they feel able to explore past experiences which may be painful.
This approach can be really helpful for gaining insight and understanding into why a child is feeling what they are now or why they behave in certain ways. Rather than deal with the symptoms of an issue, psychodynamic therapy is aiming to look at the root. The therapist will help the child to talk freely about whatever comes to their mind, in their own time and at their own pace. They will then explore what comes up for each individual.
This approach can be a longer term one which takes time but the difference that it can make can be life changing. Psychodynamic therapy can be helpful for issues such as anxiety, eating problems, panic attacks, stress and depression.
Whilst lots of therapists will use one approach to counselling in particular, you can also find many therapists who are integrative. This means that they draw on different techniques from a range of these therapeutic approaches depending on what each individual might need.
An integrative therapist will try to understand each person, their physical, mental and emotional needs, as well as their different circumstances before tailoring their approach. They will draw on a variety of elements from different approaches in order to help that child understand themselves better before knowing how to move forward with their problem. There isn’t a one size fits all approach to counselling, and some approaches just fit better with certain types of children. So an integrative therapist will try to use all of their knowledge and experience to offer the right approach for the individual. Integrative counselling can be short-term or long-term work that can help with issues like self-esteem, loss, anxiety, depression, relationships and trauma.