“Can you recommend a good therapist for my kid?” This may be one of the most common questions I answer as a psychologist. The sad reality for a lot of parents looking for a child therapist is that good help is hard to find. But the good ones are out there. If you want to find one, it helps to know what you’re looking for. Here are 5 signs you’ve found a good child therapist:

Good child therapists are a different breed. Although many therapeutic skills translate from adult work to child work, those who have dedicated their career to children approach their work differently. Child specialists don’t just tolerate the ways a child’s mind differs from an adult’s; they relish in it. They’ve developed a finely tuned sensitivity to the intuitive ways a child navigates the world and have adapted their therapeutic approach to fit seamlessly into the child’s way of seeing things. Because they understand children, their approach as therapists– they’re interactions and recommendations–are individualized and age-appropriate. Without the proper training and experience a therapist will often struggle to tailor their approach to fit the needs of child clients. Look for a therapist whose consistent focus has been on treating children, with training specific to children and families.

One of the major differences between child therapy and adult therapy is the focus on families. Although a child therapist will spend time one-on-one with a child and will focus on them as an individual, the good ones are also always focused on the family. In fact, most child therapists see the family as the client just as much as the individual child.

Child specialists recognize that children do not grow, struggle or heal in a vacuum. Even in situations where the child is suffering for reasons that are unrelated to the family, a child specialist remains focused on the family. They do this because they recognize the profound power of the family to contribute to healing when given the right guidance. Most therapists recognize this fact. Good child therapists fully embrace it and have worked hard to cultivate their ability to work with families.

From the very beginning, you should feel that your child’s therapist is interested in how the family works. You should notice that he/she is trying to build a relationship, not just with your child but with you as a parent and with other important family members. You should also feel that they are very comfortable and willing to work with any combination of family members needed to address your child’s needs.

One of the biggest reasons therapy succeeds or fails is the presence or absence of what experts call therapeutic rapport. Put simply, rapport in therapy is the feeling that you and your therapist have a shared understanding of what the problem is and how to address it. Rapport, especially with children, doesn’t happen unless your therapist is very tuned in.

From the very first session (even the very first phone call) you should feel that your therapist is genuinely curious about who your child is and who you are as a family. Ideally, you should have the feeling as the session goes on that he or she is starting to “get it.” This doesn’t mean that they will fully understand all the nuances of your child or your family right away. But you should feel they are on the right track and that they can give you a coherent idea of what the problem is and what direction you might take in therapy. Misunderstandings are inevitable, but you should expect a therapist who listens and takes you seriously when you point them out and tries to get on the same page.

The experience of having a therapist who is attuned to your child and your family will serve as a foundation for all the work you do. If you find someone who consistently struggles to “get it” or, worse yet, seems content to stick to preconceived notions rather than trying to tune in, you might be better off looking elsewhere.

Most parents who bring a child to therapy feel a mix of emotions. Most are concerned enough for their children that they are willing to take on what can be a time-consuming and sometimes scary process. They probably do so with some feeling of hope that they can get help for a problem that has resisted their best attempts to fix it. Many are filled with apprehension or even guilt about their possible role in their child’s difficulties.

To say the least, entering any therapy, as a parent or a client, can leave anyone feeling vulnerable. A good child therapist understands this and strives to find the balance between compassion for the fact that each of us comes by our problems and limitations honestly and the courage to lovingly point out areas where a person can change. Therapists who find that balance have put forth the effort to really understand you as a parent and to build rapport and compassion before suggesting changes. This doesn’t mean that what they point out won’t ever sting, challenge your assumptions or take you out of our comfort zone. But it should mean that your child’s therapist is someone who is trying hard to be a resource to you as a parent and to your family, not someone who views you as the enemy.

This is sometimes an easy attribute to overlook. A concerned parent can get caught up in getting scheduled with a therapist that came highly recommended and neglect to think about whether that person has room in their schedule to give the care his/her child needs. Therapy rarely works as an occasional intervention. Even the most talented therapist will struggle to help your family or your child if they are unable to meet regularly. This is especially true of therapy with children, where a consistent, trusting relationship is absolutely vital to a successful outcome. Children who don’t feel comfortable with their therapists don’t talk, don’t engage and very often don’t benefit.

Look for a therapist who emphasizes being consistently available and actually has the space in his/her calendar to fit you in. If you find that you are waiting weeks between appointments and there isn’t a clear and sensible rationale for meeting that often, you may want to ask your therapist whether he/she has the availability to meet as often as your child requires. It may even be worthwhile to look for a therapist with more availability.

To wrap it all up: A good child therapist is one who has fully embraced working with children and families and who has pursued specialized experience and training to do that work well. They are tuned into building a relationship with your child and your family and they’re available to work as often as your child needs. Sometimes the search can be daunting, but the difference good therapy can make in your child’s life is worth the effort.

If you are interested in getting very good therapy for your child, feel free to check out South Davis Psychological’s own child and family specialist David Christensen. You can call 801-872-6324 with any questions or to make an appointment. Click here to make an appointment over the web.