Therapy for a Child?
anonymous Asks ...
I am an extroverted optimist. My daughter is 9. She is clearly introverted (which drives me crazy sometimes) and I have to remember that she does not need or want the same things that I do to be happy. I am also a very optimistic person. Her outlook ranges from healthy caution to general worry to worrisome pessimism. I believe that looking on the bright side to life is something that makes a person happier and more successful for all of life. I understand that I cannot change my daughter’s introverted nature, but is there some way I can change her pessimistic outlook? It seems absurd to me to have a 9 year old on the therapists couch but I am worried if I wait too long her nature will solidify and become unchangeable.
Rev. Christopher Smith Says ...
When considering whether therapy is appropriate for yourself or someone for whom you are making a decision (such as a child), the first thing to be clear about is the reason that you are considering therapy. Generally, there are three main motivations that could lead you to seriously considering the investment that is involved in therapy - an investment that may be financial but more significantly is an investment of time, energy and change:
The first motivation is the weakest of the three and it is that an outside party is requiring you to go through therapy or counseling - this could be the result of involvement in the criminal justice system, connected to legal family issues or vocational/educational issues.
The other two are more personal - there is something that seems to be "wrong" that you are wanting to "fix" or there is something about yourself that you want to make better. Examples for the former are marital conflicts, disabling anxieties, mood swings, and problems controlling your anger. Examples in the latter include pre-marital counseling, exploring career options, and planning for new things in your life.
When looking at these for another person care needs to be exercised to make sure that you are making decisions that make sense for the other person as well as from your perspective.
The person asking this question is already showing that they are able to see part of the situation at least from the child's point of view. Being willing to see that different types of personalities are equally good can be difficult. In looking at the optimism-pessimism spectrum, the question that it asks is whether "worrisome pessimism" is something that gets in the way for your child. It is possible for optimism to not make someone happier and more successful. If a person has blind, unrealistic optimism then there can be great disappointments and even a lack of trust of themselves when things do not measure up to what they thought they should be. Likewise, there can be an extreme version of pessimism that is defeatist and negative to be around that causes problems. So does your child's outlook on life lead to the need for therapy to work on it?
If you decide that there is something that your child could benefit from therapy around, I would also be concerned about the idea of "the therapist's couch". Often, for children there are a range of effective ways of engaging in therapy that are not the same as when dealing with an adult. I would encourage you to find one or more therapists that specialize in working with children and ask them how they engage children of your child's age. Play therapy is certain one of the more common methods (at least until early adolescence) but it is not the only method that can be used with children that is different than traditional talk therapy. Depending on family patterns, some family therapy may also be appropriate. While a lot of your child's personality is in place, change remains possible and things can continue to be molded. If you think it is appropriate, a good quality therapist can help you and your daughter find wholeness and peace.