We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.
Mental health conditions can affect how children manage their emotions, behave, and learn. Therapy can help them with a variety of issues.
This article covers some different types of child therapy and child therapy techniques, how to know if a child needs therapy, how to explain therapy to a child, how to find a child therapist, child therapy costs and options, and more.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried any of these services. All information presented here is purely research-based.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) explains that although
There are various types of child therapy based on theories that hold different assumptions about people, behaviors, development, and learning. The sections below discuss some of these in more detail.
The psychodynamic theory posits that behaviors are rooted in unconscious thoughts.
With this type of therapy, a therapist explores the connection between the unconscious and a person’s behavior. This includes recurring thought and behavior patterns that they may have developed to help cope with distressing situations.
The goal of psychodynamic therapy is to encourage a person to process and gain insight into their experiences and emotions.
The behavior theory posits that all behaviors are learned and, therefore, modifiable. It suggests that when undesirable behaviors or thoughts are rewarded, it reinforces the behavior.
A behavior therapist encourages and rewards new behaviors while aiming to reduce undesirable ones.
Cognitive therapy is based on the belief that situations or events activate distorted thinking, resulting in maladaptive behaviors and negative emotions.
A cognitive therapist aims to get a person to examine and address their maladaptive thoughts and behaviors to help them reach their goal.
Humanistic therapy, or person-centered therapy, sees a person as the best resource in understanding themselves.
With this approach, a therapist plays a supportive role. They provide an emotionally and psychologically safe environment and invite a person to process their experiences and reflect on how these have impacted their self-worth.
Therapists use various therapy techniques to address issues specific to each child’s needs and those of their family. The therapy technique may depend on the nature of the problem, the child’s age, and other factors.
The sections below look at some child therapy techniques in more detail.
Parent-child interaction therapy
Parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT) helps parents interact with the child and manage their behaviors. It may also improve the parent-child bond. With PCIT, parents receive in-the-moment coaching from a therapist through an earpiece.
Child-centered play therapy
Child-centered play therapy (CCPT) is a play-based intervention. It utilizes the playroom as a safe space to help children process their feelings through symbols and play. The counseling relationship can support healing and positive change, decrease negative behaviors, and improve overall functioning.
CCPT therapy allows children to explore issues using toys and the play environment, enabling them to lead their own healing.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), therapists teach children how thoughts cause feelings that affect behaviors. They help children identify distorted and harmful thinking patterns and replace them with more appropriate ones to improve their mood and behavior.
Trauma-focused CBT is a specialized form of CBT. It helps children cope with traumatic experiences.
Dialectical behavior therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a form of behavior therapy for high risk cases, such as teenagers with suicidal ideation. It uses a combination of individual and group sessions with additional coaching calls to teach people the coping strategies and skills necessary to handle conflict and extreme emotions.
DBT teaches interpersonal effectiveness, mindfulness, distress tolerance skills, and emotional regulation skills.
Applied behavioral analysis
Applied behavioral analysis is a well-known early form of therapy for autistic children. It focuses on rewarding desirable behaviors to increase their frequency and minimize less acceptable behaviors.
It teaches behaviors in real-life settings and addresses learning, self-management, and communication.
In play therapy, a therapist uses games, drawings, blocks, puppets, and art to observe and identify themes or patterns and gain insight into the child’s issues.
A 2020 systematic review suggests that play therapy improves behavior and attitude and reduces post-operative pain in children.
Group therapy uses peer interaction and group dynamics to improve skills and target specific behaviors depending on the group type. One or several therapists may lead a group therapy session.
A 2020 study that involved 30 children of divorced parents found that group play therapy helped them improve their self-control strategies and resiliency.
Family therapy aims to understand the family’s interaction and communication patterns. It also aims to provide support and education to help the family function more positively.
Although occasional tantrums and outbursts are normal for many children, persistent or sudden changes in a child’s behavior may indicate a need to visit a mental health professional.
A child may need therapy if they experience:
- repeated displays of defiant behavior
- problems in different areas of life, such as family, relationships, or academics
- excessive worry
- persistent sadness
- low energy levels
- a lack of concentration
- changes in appetite
- a sudden change or loss of interest in previously valued hobbies or interests
- thoughts of self-harm
- social withdrawal
- sleep pattern changes
- a lack of personal hygiene
- physical complaints that do not have a cause or do not respond to treatment
In younger children, behaviors that indicate a need to visit a mental health professional may not be as easy to detect. However, they may include:
- separation anxiety
- excessive fearfulness
- agitation and irritability
A parent or caregiver should try to explain therapy to a child in an age-appropriate way. For example, they may be able to offer more information depending on the child’s age and ability to understand.
Parents and caregivers may wish to describe therapists as “feelings doctors” to younger children.
If they intend to be part of the process, they can also share that therapy can help them communicate, play, and understand each other better.
With older children and teenagers, parents and caregivers can involve them in the decision making process. Decisions may include choosing the clinic, therapist, and schedule.
Parents and caregivers can ask their pediatrician for a referral. If the child is in school, a school social worker or counselor can also offer recommendations.
Parents and caregivers can also search website directories that list psychologists by state and specialty. Some examples include:
The cost of therapy varies depending on location, type of therapy, specialization, therapy length, insurance coverage, and the therapist’s training and reputation.
However, costs typically range from $65 to $200. Some therapists may charge up to $250 per session. People with insurance coverage can expect insurance copays amounting to $10 to $50.
According to the American Psychological Association, online therapy can be an affordable, convenient, and accessible way to receive therapy. Below are some online options that offer therapy to children and teenagers.
Talkspace offers online support for teenagers aged 13 to 17 years. Depending on the plan, a child can send unlimited text, picture, and audio messages and even have live video sessions with their therapist.
Talkspace therapy costs $64 to $114 per week.
TeenCounseling is an online platform that allows teenagers aged 13–19 years to message, chat, call, or have video sessions with a counselor. Parents and teenagers have separate rooms with the counselor.
Counseling through TeenCounseling costs $60 to $90 per week.
Amwell provides various telemedicine and counseling services for children as young as 10 years old through its vast network of licensed psychologists.
Session costs can range from $99 to $110, depending on the therapist’s credentials.
Costs range from $100 to $200 per session, depending on the therapist and their state.
However, the service offers a reduced rate of $50 for sessions with interns under the supervision of clinical supervisors. It also has reduced-rate options for people with financial constraints and those without insurance coverage.
Online-Therapy.com provides CBT services to individuals. Unlike typical teletherapy, Online-Therapy.com provides people with information, tools, worksheets, and other features, such as journaling and yoga.
In addition to unlimited messaging, individuals can have one 30-minute live video, voice, or chat session with their therapist each week.
Costs range from $31.96 to $63.96 per week, depending on the subscription.
Rethink My Therapy offers a family/child program through phone and video sessions. The subscription covers 24/7 therapist access for up to four accounts.
Rethink My Therapy family/child programs cost $159 per month.
The following are common questions and answers about therapy for children.
Does insurance cover online therapy?
Some online platforms take insurance and partner with health plans. Others may provide receipts for reimbursements. The Affordable Care Act also provides mental health coverage.
Can parents and caregivers be involved in treatment?
Yes. Therapists generally encourage parents and caregivers to actively participate in and support the child’s treatment and recovery. However, this may also depend on the child’s treatment program and their comfort level with parental involvement.
Can a child sign up without parental consent?
Allowing children to sign up for online therapy without parental consent varies per state. However, most providers require a parent or caregiver’s consent.
Is the session information shared or confidential?
Online therapy providers use Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-compliant platforms to ensure confidentiality.
Therapists maintain ethical codes that uphold privacy and confidentiality except when allowed by law, such as during mental health emergencies wherein a child might become a threat to themselves or others.
Therapists must also report abuse and parental neglect.
Most children and teenagers with mental health conditions do not seek help or receive necessary treatment. Online therapy may be an accessible and inexpensive way to receive mental health treatment.
With so many different types of child therapy available, parents and caregivers need to consider the child’s unique needs and those of the wider family when choosing a therapist or therapy platform.