Child and Family Counseling

Mental Health Basics

A depressed teen in a counseling session.
Counseling can be helpful for children with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Photo by Richard Clark/Getty Images

When kids have a mental health problem, whether it is depression, anxiety, or behavioral problems, a prescription can seem like a quick and easy fix for their symptoms.

Unfortunately, that isn't always a long-term fix, and aren't even always necessary.

Counseling, whether it is tried alone, or is combined with medication, is often an important part of treating most mental health problems.


Counseling is actually a generic term for getting advice from someone.

When your pediatrician recommends counseling for your child, he is likely referring to counseling from a:

  • Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
  • Social Worker, who may have a bachelor's degree (B.A., B.S.W., or B.S.) or master's degree (M.S. or M.S.W.)
  • Psychologist, who may have a master's degree (M.S.) or doctoral degree (Ph.D., Psy.D, or Ed.D)
  • Psychiatrist, an M.D. who in addition to prescribing medication for psychiatric disorders might also offer psychotherapy for select children and teens

How do you know which mental health professional to see for counseling?

There is no hard and fast rule. In general, try to see the one that has the training and experience that best matches your child's problem. For example, if you suspect your child has a learning disability and he needs testing, then seeing an educational psychologist (Psy.D) might be best.

Your pediatrician will likely be able to refer you to someone in your area that can help your child too.

Child Counseling

In addition to a child psychologist, many social workers and licensed professional counselors focus on counseling children.

They may be especially helpful when children need counseling because your child:

  • has had a marked drop in his grades
  • has become worried and anxious about things
  • is having troubling falling asleep, is waking up frequently, or is having frequent nightmares
  • is sad, moody or angry
  • has poor self-esteem
  • can't cope with daily problems in his life
  • is abusing drugs or alcohol
  • is cutting and hurting himself
  • has strange thoughts or unusual behaviors

Family Counseling

Although we often think of counseling as being something that is done one-on-one between a counselor and a child, it can also often be helpful for resolving conflicts within a family and so that the counselor can see how family members react and relate to each other.

Grief Counseling

Grief is the normal reaction to losing a parent or other loved one. Grieving children may feel angry, guilty, sad, or even be afraid of losing someone else.

Grief counseling can help them cope with these difficult feelings.

Group Counseling

Group therapy or counseling involves a whole group of people with a similar problem meeting with a counselor to work on their issues. It can be especially helpful for teenagers, since they may relate to other teens in the group that have the same problems that they do.

School Counseling

Although parents often turn to a school counselor for help with their child's behavior problems, it is important to note that the average school counselor is there to focus on career and educational counseling.

He will likely offer some help with social and behavioral problems and simple personal problems that your child may have, but the time he can offer to each student may be limited since he is responsible for so many students.

Psychotherapy for Kids

Although most parents don't think of psychotherapy as something that is available to children, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that it can include a 'variety of techniques and methods used to help children and adolescents who are experiencing difficulties with their emotions or behavior.'

Types of psychotherapy include:

  • play therapy
  • dynamic therapy
  • cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • family therapy
  • group therapy

A child and adolescent psychiatrist or other therapist can determine if your child might benefit from psychotherapy, set some goals for therapy, and let you know how soon you might expect to see some changes in your child.



American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Facts for Families. What Is Psychotherapy For Children And Adolescents?

Kliegman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed.

McCann, CM. Individual, family, and group therapy for adolescents. Adolesc Med Clin - 01-FEB-2006; 17(1): 217-31.

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