Your first child psychologist session should be a breeze. You may be experiencing headaches, pain, and confusion as part of “what is going on with my child?”
Hence, this meeting with a child psychologist for the first time should help instead of adding on to the burdens parents already carry. For that purpose, this article will give insight into what to expect for your first session and more about the entire process!
Summary of Article:
- Consent Forms
- The Interview
- History of Family Members
- Family Dynamics
- Developmental History
- Trauma/Important Events
- Coping Skills
- Social Support System
- The Process
- First Meet-Up
- Structure Of Session
- Identifying The Problem
- Formulating A Working Hypothesis
- Recommending A Solution
- Parental Roles
- Preparing Your Child
- Important Documents
- List of Questions
- Getting Feedback
- Qualities Of The Psychologist
- Quality Of Professional Help
- If The Psychologist Is Not Suitable
- Other Questions
- Guidebook To Your Therapist: The First Session
- Guidebook To Your Therapist: Have We Hit Climax Yet
- Guidebook To Your Therapist: Silences In Therapy
Yes, you heard me right. A psychological assessment and intervention session comes with paperwork as well! This ensures that you are aware of the engagement process and its entailment in the first child psychologist session.
Before you meet the child psychologist, you are likely to receive a clipboard with a sheaf of documents. Although this can be dull, the information you provide will help the professional understand your child and your family better.
Common information listed on the intake forms include:
- Demographic background information
- Type of issues you are facing
- Emergency contact information
- List of family members
- Referral source
When you give consent, the child psychologist is now legally allowed to work with your child and your family. You are entering into a legally bound agreement with the professional.
This usually covers the information below:
- Asking sensitive questions
- Freedom to continue or end the work contract
- Possibility of recorded sessions
- Terms for breaking confidentiality
- and much more!
Take it as a “briefing” of how sessions will run.
Generally, all the information revealed in the sessions with a psychologist is private and confidential. He or she will be legally bound by law to keep the information within bounds of the therapy itself.
However, these are the occasions when confidentiality may be breached:
- When there is a risk of harm to your child or others
- Suspicion of child abuse
- Upon specific instructions by parents (owner of information)
- Qualifying court order
These situations are discussed during the first child psychologist session. Upon signing the consent form, you will be stating your acknowledgment and agreement to the above situations for breach of confidentiality.
The Age of Majority Act 1971 indicates that a child can only enter legal adulthood upon the age of 18. This includes the freedom to smoke and vote. However, bear in mind that drinking and getting married is reserved for the age of 21.
In the context of therapy, when your child below the age of 18 reveals any information, it is the property of their parents. However, we encourage parents to allow children to freely share what they wish to divulge. This way, they will feel secure in their relationship with the child psychologist.
For example, the laws vary by state in the United States of America. In the state of California, minors can consent to mental health services without parental permission. Some countries have changes in law upon the age of 14, and others retain the legal age at 18. Others allow the professional to determine if the minor is mature enough to provide consent to psychological services.
When your child is 13-years-old or older, the child psychologist will recommend for them to have more freedom in their therapy sessions. More time is spent with the minor in the first session to maintain balance in family relationships and allow their opinions to be heard.
Therapy sessions try to accommodate the minor’s growth into independence, by granting them more respect and autonomy in sessions. Practically, we encourage parents to refrain from asking what was discussed in therapy. This allows teenagers to establish healthy boundaries and personal identities.
Even if nothing is discussed thoroughly during the first child psychologist session, establish goals at this stage. It could be as simple as “helping Levi to manage tantrums effectively” or “using psychological tool A to identify the nature of the problem”.
This will be helpful for you to know what are the next steps that the psychologist will take. Then, you can plan your time effectively and aid the process of understanding and addressing the issue at stake.
Further refine your goals at the end of the psychological evaluation, to specifically enhance your child’s strengths and address contributors to problems faced.
History Of Family Members
The psychologist will ask for a detailed history of the family members (both immediate and extended) to understand the nature of the issue faced. A high number of neurodevelopmental disorders are genetically linked, while emotional problems faced may be caused by the child’s living environment.
Be patient and open-minded during this process. The child psychologist wants to know about the family history to effectively prescribe a quick and sure way of dealing with the issue.
Your child psychologist records your child’s developmental milestones to understand if there are delays that may contribute to the overall picture. It will be helpful to know when your child:
- Raised his/her head
- Rolled over
- Stood up
- Was toilet trained
Important events (including trauma) will set the tone for understanding if your child has emotional resiliency, or will be prone to a lower distress tolerance level. It also allows the child psychologist to know if your child has responded effectively to prior therapy.
Important events include:
- Moving homes/schools
- Bullied/Was bullied
- Motor vehicle accident
- Head injuries
- Parental separation/divorce
Your child’s strengths and how they faced major obstacles in the past will allow the psychologist to understand how well they can bounce back from negative events. Minors who have a lower level of coping skills receive more attention to this area during sessions.
This also helps the child psychologist cater his/her interaction with your child. They will give your child more freedom to express and time to build trust during sessions.
Social Support System
Having a good social support system means that you and your family have people looking out for you. In cases of emergencies or financial support, you have a solid backup from your “people”. Although often neglected, this is a crucial strength for families.
For example, your child may need someone to send him/her for impromptu therapy sessions. There may be difficulties meeting financial obligations for psychological services. After a tough session, your child may wish to spend some time with grandparents or a close aunt. This is how a solid support system will relieve tension in the family.
The first child psychologist session could take place at the office, or within your home. The initial paperwork will guide some questions asked. Be mindful that it is important to verbally discuss the contents of the informed consent with your psychologist to determine how you will work together.
Pay attention to your surroundings in the psychologist’s office. Is it comfortable and inviting? The atmosphere is important as your child will likely be spending their time there.
Dress in comfortable, casual clothes as you will likely be spending up to two hours sitting in a chair. Bring some water for when you get thirsty from talking. Bring any documents highlighting your child’s progress or the problem faced.
Each child psychologist is likely to take different approaches based on the nature of the issue you mention, the age of your child, and their working style. Some use a structured questionnaire to complete their understanding of your family and your child. Others will use an informal method by asking, “How may I help you?”
Then, your psychologist may refer to different ways of helping you and your family. They are likely to speak to you first and complete the parental interview, followed by spending some time with your child or adolescent. If your child is 13-years-old and above, they are more likely to spend a short time with you and focus their time on building a relationship with your teen.
Identify The Problem
You may feel like so many things are wrong that one single problem cannot be identified. Have no fear, that is the role of the child psychologist – to bring clarity amid confusion.
The child psychologist will spend time listening to you in the first child psychologist session, and with the help of assessment tools, work together with you to find the heart of the problem. This is an important step because the proposed solution must be able to address the root of the issue, instead of a side branch that is inconsequential.
Formulate A Working Hypothesis
A working hypothesis takes the form of, “Your child is facing difficulty A because of B. B is made worse when C and D happens, while E is a major strength.” It is called a working hypothesis because it is continually updated based on new information.
Based on the hypothesis, the best approach is then taken to manage ABCDE collaboratively.
When the child psychologist provides recommendations, it is always based on evidence and research. They will provide treatment that has shown to be effective.
For example, the child psychologist may plan for play therapy sessions to help your child express himself or herself. Talk therapy may be suggested if your child tends to imagine the worst scenarios. He or she will explain to you how the therapy sessions will address the issues highlighted from the assessments. After which, he or she will set a timeline to re-assess progress.
Preparing your child
Let your child know that they will be speaking to someone who is there to help. The conversation may go this way:
- “I’m bringing you to see someone that can help you with your feelings.”
- “Mummy needs some help to understand you better.”
- “Ms. Evelyn is here to help you feel more comfortable in school.”
- “We’re getting help so that you can talk to mummy and daddy about how you feel.”
This way, the child will know what will happen in the first child psychologist session and that the psychologist is a safe person to talk to. Normalize the process by involving the whole family. If you have attended therapy before, share the experience with your child.
This includes any information that can help the psychologist understand your child better. Other than verbal reports, you can bring school reports, medical reports, or previous assessment records.
If you plan to use your health insurance to pay for therapy sessions, it will also be helpful to bring a copy of your insurance policy or insurance card. For Medicaid, make sure that you have your child’s Social Security number.
To apply for a prorated fee for mental health services, some centers may allow an adjusted payment system based on your income. To apply for this, bring along salary slips, tax returns, or proof of receipt of public assistance.
List Of Questions
Jot down all the burning questions you have in your head. It is helpful to have a note on your mobile device that you can type random questions that pop into your head. It may sound redundant but it is better than feeling regret that you didn’t manage to ask some important questions later on.
Some good questions to ask:
- What is your approach with children?
- How will issue X or Y be addressed?
- Will the process take a long time?
- How do I work with you to help my child?
Make the conscious decision to trust the psychologist after the process of getting to know him or her. If the process and delivery of information made you and your child comfortable, let your psychologist take over and know that they will do everything they can to help.
Although it may feel tempting to ask about what went on during the session, your child may not share accurately. “Yeah, we just cut some paper and did some craft,” may be part of a lesson where social skills were taught. There is usually more to the story.
If your child psychologist chooses to refrain from sharing every single thing that went on in the session, understand that he or she is not trying to conceal information from you. There may be certain information that may help your child best process or learn without your input. Let your child psychologist work freely, and the best may be yet to come.
Qualities Of The Psychologist
Quality Of Professional Help
Your child psychologist should have attained the necessary qualifications to be working directly with your child. Beware of counselors who claim the ability to provide neurodevelopmental diagnoses for children (this should be the domain of clinical psychologists or psychiatrists).
On the other hand, prestigious or highly credentialed psychologists will not be helpful to you and your child if they are unable to let you feel understood or cared for. Look out for someone who can inspire hope in your situation; perhaps a psychologist who is upbeat and energized?
Psychoeducation is highlighted during therapy sessions. A useful (not necessarily information-packed) briefing of factors surrounding the problem and symptoms from potential diagnoses should always be provided.
This helps you gain perspective about difficulties your child experiences and their strengths to overcome the issue. When you understand the nature of their problems better, you can effectively apply the recommendations at home.
If The Psychologist Is Not Suitable
The psychologist seen during the first consultation may not be the most suitable one for various reasons. They may be unfamiliar with the issues surrounding your family’s problem and refer you to a better-informed colleague. Sometimes, conflicts of interests may occur (like your psychologist is friends with your mother), and you may see someone else instead.
Raise questions if you notice that your child is uncomfortable or making poor progress in therapy. Brainstorm ways of increasing your child’s involvement during sessions. If a referral to another psychologist is warranted, ensure that it is a mutual decision in the best interest of your child.
- How long does therapy take?
Depending on the approach taken by your psychologist, sessions could occur every week for 2 to 3 months. Do note that clear assessments should be done before, during, and after the process to identify progress objectively.
- What exactly is done in child therapy?
Your child psychologist may use a variety of tools such as drawings, toys, or activities to engage your child. Note that these are merely mediums for your child to express him- or herself, while the issue is addressed through different topics in these sessions.
- Will I see improvement in my child immediately?
Unfortunately, you may see some negative reactions in your child after the initial sessions. This is sometimes called the “Negative Reaction” phase. It occurs because your child is learning how to express themselves healthily, and it may feel uncomfortable to them at first. Give therapy a chance to allow your child to habituate to the progress, and improvements will follow.
Interested to know more about a clinical psychologist? You can read further here: