Your Child's First Therapy Appointment

Here's What You Can Expect If Your Child Is Visiting a Therapist for a Phobia

If you're concerned that your child may have a phobia, it's a good idea to schedule an appointment with a therapist. A trained mental health professional will be able to diagnose the condition and help you and your child manage her fears. 

That said, taking your child to a therapist to discuss a phobia can be nerve-wracking. While mental disorders have become increasingly accepted in modern society, some parents still feel that there is a stigma attached. You may also feel guilty, believing that you could have done something to prevent the phobia. You may simply be unsure what to expect, particularly if you have never visited a therapist before. Knowing what to expect can ease your nerves and make both you and your child a bit more comfortable.

Preparing for Your Visit

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Make sure that you are fully prepared for your child’s appointment. The therapist will want to know:

  • When the symptoms began and how intense they are
  • What specific situations trigger your child's phobia
  • What medications your child takes

Prepare your child as well. If he or she is shy or uncomfortable around strangers, the therapist may seem new and frightening. Depending on your child’s age, you may or may not want to explain what therapy is. Some parents find that presenting the therapist as a new friend, a doctor or even a teacher can help calm the child’s nerves.

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Paying for Treatment

New mental health parity laws took effect in January 2010. If you currently have mental health benefits, your insurer may not charge excess out-of-pocket fees or limit the number of visits that you or your family may receive. Under the new health care reform, as of 2010, dependent children are covered under their parents' insurance until age 26, and children cannot be denied coverage based on pre-existing conditions. And, as of 2014, mental health treatment is an "essential benefit" in all new plans. If you have no mental health benefits, consider using a community mental health center. Community mental health centers charge sliding-scale fees based on your ability to pay. Your family doctor may know of other local resources.

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At the Office

Visiting a therapist’s office is not unlike visiting a doctor’s office. You and your child will check in with the receptionist and wait for your appointment time. You will need to fill out several forms, so arrive early. Many child therapists have toys available in the waiting room, but it's a good idea to bring a few of your own.

Seeing the Therapist

Each therapist has his or her own policies regarding parents. Some therapists spend a few minutes of the initial appointment speaking with the parent. This allows the therapist to gather important information while the child adjusts to the environment. However, some therapists prefer to wait to speak to the parent until the end of the session. Either way, you will generally be expected to leave the therapist and the child alone for a portion of the session. This is to provide the child a chance to open up without being concerned about your approval.


At the first appointment, the therapist will be primarily concerned with accurately diagnosing your child’s condition. He or she will ask you a lot of questions about the history of your child’s symptoms. If your child is old enough, the therapist will ask him or her numerous questions in child-friendly language as well. The therapist may also observe your child’s interactions with you, as well as alone at play.

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Therapy Options

At the end of the session, the therapist will spend some time wrapping up with both you and your child. He or she will give a clinical opinion on your child’s condition and suggest possible treatments. There are many different techniques that therapists use to treat children with phobias. Play therapy, in which the therapist enters into play with the child, is common. It's also common for the therapist to use a process of systematic desensitization, in which the child is gradually exposed to the feared object until the fear subsides. Your therapist may have other suggestions as well.

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Some therapists believe that medications should be used in conjunction with therapy. However, therapists are not allowed to prescribe drugs. Therefore, the therapist may suggest that you make an appointment with your child’s doctor or a psychiatrist. The use of medications in treating phobias is common, so don't be alarmed if the suggestion is made.

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