A View into Online Counseling for Children and Families- What is Needed from Parents, Children and the Therapist
Are you avoiding going to mental health counseling through online platforms? Do you think it will never work with my children? Putting off family or couples counseling until things settle down from the pandemic? You don’t see how counseling can work through video calls or on the phone? Well now is the time to actually move forward because I believe we are in this for the long haul. Online services are the new norm for my counseling practice for the unforeseeable future. Nothing has changed except the location. I still have the same 20 years of knowledge and experience to treat mental health issues within children and adults.
Let me start off with some positive experiences I have had during online counseling with children. Children love to show me their stuffed animals, they like to share the activities they do in the house like making forts or being creative. Instead of just hearing about it I’m able to visually see it and bond with them more easily. They feel more comfortable in their home environment talking with me. It is easier for parents to get them to session because they don’t have to get them in the car. Using the computer or phone is second nature to them. So it’s a comfortable medium.
To ease your mind about how telementalhealth works or online counseling, let me give you a view into what sessions look like online. We meet on an online HIPAA compliant protal or on the phone. When I meet with parents they are finding ways to either have parent sessions with both parents present or individually. Factors that influence the decision are the age of the children and the child’s attention span without parental supervision. Would I prefer both parents present yes but these are times that require flexibility. I’m being flexible because a lot of parents do not have childcare. Sometimes I’m meeting with parents after the children go to bed or on the weekends.
As for teens, they may need shorter half an hour sessions and others can talk for 45 minutes. Some want to meet on the phone and some on video. Some want to meet while they are outside (wearing masks sometimes). I’m flexible, letting them pick how they work with me gives them some independence which they crave.
Younger children may need one of their parents in the room. Conducting the sessions in a smaller room works better for children who are more sensitive or overactive. Some children can stay engaged without parents. I’m flexible with this to make it work. Sometimes children need emotion regulation strategies to get their wiggles out at the beginning of the session. So, we start the session with 5 minutes of freeze dance or red light green light for 5 min. Sometimes we are engaged with art projects or drawing. Other times I’m showing parents how to play with their children through filial play therapy. Play is the language of younger children. It is important for their healing. I can even treat families and children through sand tray therapy. Obviously, parents need flexibility and openness to having sand in their house. Or we can use a beige towel to represent the sand. Online counseling requires us (parents and therapists) to think more creatively, be more flexible, creativity and rewards for the children because they participated.
Creativity and flexibility are the two themes of my life right now personally and professionally. You too? If not, I’m asking you to change your mindset so your family and yourself can participate in therapy. Letting the mental health of children and adults go to the wayside in the middle of a traumatic event (the pandemic) is not wise. Untreated, we will have very anxious or angry children by the end of this pandemic. Ongoing untreated trauma interferes with learning and the immune system.
When anyone is experiencing the kind of stress we are all facing today it can turn into a mental health issue quickly. It is also known that stress lowers the immune system. Please don’t ignore the following signs and get yourself, your children and your family the help they need. Usually within three months after a traumatic event parents will see in their children an increase in symptoms such as irritability, aggression, sleeplessness, overwhelm, destructive behaviors, depression, sadness, anxiety, nightmares. Adults may have similar symptoms. These symptoms can be treated with a trauma-trained therapist like myself. Building resilience during this time should be a top priority for your family.
The feelings of everyone in the family are important. This is the reason I have worked from a family perspective over the past 20 years. My passion has always been to help families find peace. This is still the case even over telementalhealth.
I am reaching out to you in this blog now because I know untreated, the symptoms can get progressively worse. There are skills and strategies along with talking which can help you and your children manage this time better (explore the mindfulness page, energy psychology page, and emotional freedom technique pages). Reach out to me and we can see if we are a good fit. If not I am always happy to help people get to a counselor who will work for them better. Hope to hear from you soon. In addition, I have been asked to speak to Master level graduate counseling program to share my knowledge with them around online counseling with children and families. Feel free to share this blog with professors or students who want to learn more about this topic.