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Getting Help

Going to a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, or Therapist

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If you have a broken arm or a bad cold, you go to the doctor for help and to feel better, right? Well, sometimes kids and adults have problems that can’t be seen as easily as a broken bone or a runny nose. When people have problems or trouble with emotions, sometimes they see a therapist to get help.

Therapists are experts in the ways people think, feel, and act. They help kids understand feelings, take care of problems, and cope with difficult situations. A therapist’s job is to help kids do better and feel better. Therapists do their work mainly by listening to and talking with kids.

Different types of therapists help kids — some are doctors called psychologists (say: sy-kol-uh-jists) or psychiatrists (say: sy-ky-uh-trists), and some are counselors or social workers.

What Do Therapists Help With?

Therapists help kids with many kinds of things — from small problems to big ones. It all depends on what a kid needs help with.

Many kids need help dealing with strong or difficult feelings. Here are some of the kinds of problems that kids have:

  • dealing with so much shyness that they don’t feel comfortable enough to talk to friends or teachers
  • feeling so worried, stressed, or afraid that they can’t sleep, have fun, or enjoy school
  • going through a lot of sadness, depression, or grief
  • having trouble because of too much anger

Therapists can help kids understand any kind of difficult emotion and learn positive ways to react so they can enjoy life more.

Therapists also help kids who are going through difficult family situations — such as divorce, the death of someone close, or a serious health problem. Therapists help kids heal if they have been through things like abuse, violence, or a disaster. When a therapist listens and understands what you’re going through, it can help you cope, feel supported, and more confident about better times ahead.

For kids who need it, therapists can teach how to get along better with people — like classmates, brothers or sisters, or parents. Or how to be a better sport when they lose. Or how to wait their turn, play fair, or listen better (so they get in trouble less often!).

For those who need it, therapists can coach kids to get better at learning, paying attention in class, homework, or improving grades. They also can coach kids who need help sticking with a plan for healthy eating, exercise, and getting enough sleep. If you need help quitting a habit that’s bad for them, a therapist can help.

Whatever problem a kid is having — you name it! — a therapist can help them learn the skills to solve it, do better, and feel better.

What Happens in a Therapist’s Office?

During an appointment, you won’t be examined on a table like you are at a typical doctor visit. There are no needles or shots. You’ll sit in a comfortable chair and have a conversation. The therapist will welcome you and be friendly, and try to make you feel at ease.

On your first visit, your parent might come in with you and be part of the conversation. A parent can help explain your situation and what you need help with. On future visits, your parent can wait for you in the therapist’s waiting room while you talk with your therapist alone.

Your therapist may ask you questions or have you complete some questionnaires, solve some puzzles, or draw pictures. These things help your therapist know more about how you feel, think, and learn.
While you talk over your problems, you might play with toys or games together. Therapists know that playing can help kids feel more comfortable so they can talk more easily.

Your therapist will want to hear about the good things in your life, too, such as what you are good at and what you enjoy. Part of a therapist’s job is help kids notice their strengths and feel proud of what they’re already doing well.

During appointments, your therapist might teach you lessons about feelings or how to help yourself relax. A therapist also can help you learn to get along with people better. And a therapist will show you how to practice thing you want to improve.

Your therapist might help you to set goals for yourself. He or she also might ask you to keep a notebook that you can use to describe your feelings. Bringing this notebook to your appointments can help you track your progress.

You might have appointments with your therapist every week for a while. Each appointment might be about 45 minutes or an hour long. As things get better for you, you might see your therapist less often, until your work together is finished.

Getting Help Is Smart

Problems come up in every kid’s life. Sometimes, you can work out a problem on your own or with the help of a parent, teacher, or your school guidance counselor.

If you more need help or a problem seems too big to handle, seeing a doctor or therapist is the right thing to do. Whenever you have a problem, it’s smart to take charge and work it out.

Reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: January 2012