How to Choose a Psychologist for Your Child

How to Choose a Psychologist For Your Child

Choosing a Psychologist to support you and your child as you navigate through the maze of parenting and child development can be tricky and a little daunting.

You may have been given a list of names, and somehow you need to select the right person to help.

How do you choose? What qualities should you look for in a psychologist?

Even though I am a psychologist, the best way for me to answer this question is like a mum.

Like you, I love my children. I love them so much that the word ‘love’ doesn’t feel big enough to describe the strength of my feelings. Bearing that in mind, I’m looking for someone I can entrust with the wellbeing of my child and a piece of my heart.

So if you’re looking for a psychologist to help your child you need one that will support you to help your child above all.

The Six Essential Questions to Consider When Choosing a Psychologist (with my mum-hat on).

  1. Has the psychologist got experience in the area that you’re concerned about? For example, if your child is struggling with attention, has the psychologist worked with children with attention difficulties before?
  1. Will your child feel safe with the psychologist? Do you think they are someone your child can have fun with? Because learning new skills doesn’t have to feel like hard work, no play. In fact, with children it’s more effective if it’s fun. How do you know if your child will feel safe enough with the psychologist if you haven’t chosen them yet? Trust your judgement here. You know your child best, and you should have an opportunity to at least speak with the prospective psychologist before booking an appointment for your child.
  2. Does the psychologist speak with language that you (and your child) can easily understand? We need someone who will be able to communicate effectively with us. No big words that leave you or your child feeling confused and even more vulnerable.
  1. Do they exude warmth and empathy? For your child to progress and receive the help they need, you will need someone you can talk to with no fear of judgement. After all, if you don’t feel their warmth, how can you expect your child to feel comfortable enough to receive their help?
  1. Will they just listen? This is one of the most important points you need to consider. If it’s all talk, talk, talk, you won’t feel that what you have to say has been heard.
  1. Go with your gut. Ask yourself “Do I feel relaxed with this psychologist?” The ability to build rapport and the quality of the relationship are two important predictors of the effectiveness of the intervention.

For me personally, I’d also want the opportunity to have a good chat with the potential psychologist before they meet my child. I’d like the opportunity to talk to them without my child being in the room. Who wants to share all of their concerns in front of their child? Not me. During this chat, I’d also get a sense of their warmth and personality. Do I think they would be a good fit with my child?

This is exactly why I – now with my psychologist’s hat back on – always give parents the opportunity to meet me first. The first session with me is without their child, because as a parent, this is exactly how I would like to be treated. There’s no way I could feel right reporting all of my concerns to a psychologist with my child present, and I’m positive you wouldn’t either.

And if you have seen other psychologists in the past and you feel disheartened that they weren’t right for you, please know that this wasn’t a reflection of the psychologist’s skills, nor an indication that psychological therapy or assessment “hasn’t worked,” but simply an indicator that the relationship wasn’t the right one.

Please, do not let this stop you pursuing working with a psychologist, just keep searching until you find one that will support your journey with your child.

Above all, when choosing a psychologist to work with your child, I wouldn’t be too concerned with the number of letters after their name. Because what’s so much more important is choosing a psychologist who is kind, who will listen without judgement and who will equip us with the tools and information we need to navigate our way through our moment of challenge.

I believe that when it comes to our children, what could be more important than feeling heard and finding answers?


Dr Nicole Carvill
About the Author: 
Dr Nicole Carvill (BA(Hons) PhD MAPS) 

Nicole is a psychologist, presenter, author and mother, passionate about helping children/adults to understand how they learn best and to assist them to gain the skills they need to thrive. 

Here is a snapshot of her professional highlights:

+   Presenter for the Pearson Academy on understanding the impact of working memory and attention on learning and life.

+   Awarded PhD scholarship to research how to support people caring for a child, parent or partner with additional needs as a result of an intellectual disability, mental illness or age. I’ve met many amazing and inspiring people so far.

+   Researched the impact of pregnancy on memory skills (and after two pregnancies I know all about the brain drain during pregnancy!).

+   Worked within a Multi-disciplinary Autism Assessment Team under guidance of Dr Richard Eisenmajer at Gateway Support Services.

+   Worked with Preschool children with developmental delays while supporting their families, Specialist Children’s Services.

+   Worked as a Clinician within the Behaviour Intervention Support Team, Disability Services [DHS].

+   Regional Co-Ordinator (Barwon South Western region of Victoria) for Program for Students with Disabilities, Lewis & Lewis Psychological Consultancy.

You can find Nicole and more of her work on her website, http://thinknicolecarvill.com or Facebook.

16 Comments

Inpsync

I totally agree on your points, child should feel comfortable with the psychologist. The point you have quoted above going to help me a lot .

Thank you!.

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Amy W

Thank you for pointing out that a child psychologist will exude warmth and empathy, allowing for your child to progress and feel comfortable. I’ve been thinking of taking my daughter to a professional counselor. It’s good to know what to look for when I begin to search for a counselor in my area.

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Ellie D

I really like that you suggest finding someone with warmth and empathy. My daughter is needing to see a psychiatrist and I want to make sure we find the best one possible. I’ll have to look into finding the best services in my area.

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Millie H

I totally agree when you said that we should trust our instinct when choosing a therapist. As you mentioned, one should feel comfortable with them to really have a quality session. I will keep that in mind when I start looking for a counselor for my son. We just need to seek professional help already because our son has been avoiding us and keeps on running away.

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Julius Amberfield

It sure got my attention when you said that when it comes to finding a psychologist for the child, it is best to go for one who speaks in a way that I and my child can understand. I will surely keep that in mind since my little girl is only six years old. It would truly be appreciated if the psychologist who will help her get over her anxiety will talk to her in a friendly and understandable manner. Thank you!

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Scott

It’s interesting that you mentioned finding a therapist that you won’t feel judged by. I have been looking for someone to help counsel my family. I can see how it would be smart to choose someone nonjudgemental because my family isn’t very trusting of people who judge them.

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Larry

I appreciate the advice to find a psychologist that speaks in a language that you can understand. Both my child and I could use a psychologist after a traumatic incident during a car crash. It hasn’t been an easy time, but we’re hopeful that we can get the help that we need through getting counseling.

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Harper

Due to recent events, I am wanting to find my child a psychologist to help her get through this. It really helped when you said that we need to look for one that speaks with language that both her and I understand. I will really appreciate having someone I can talk to, and know how my child’s progress is going.

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Jackie Oliver

My child has had a hard time the last little while, and I think that having him see a psychologist would be really beneficial. I’m not sure how to choose the right one, but I like your point about listening to your gut. If you have a really good feeling about someone, and feel like they would work well with your child, then it is good to go with that person.

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Jorge

I appreciate that you point out the importance of finding a child psychologist that can speak a language that the child can easily understand. This way the child can be easily understood and can understand what is going on and can get the help they need. This only helps both psychologist get an accurate feeling for what they can do to properly help the child get the care they need to be mentally healthy and happy.

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Maggie Allen

Thanks so much for sharing! I can definitely agree that it would be much better to talk to a psychologist first without your child present. Plus, not bringing your child can make it a lot easier to visit multiple psychologists if you’re still looking for “the one.” Do you happen to know if psychologists usually offer a free initial consultation?

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Dana

Just went though finding a new therapist for my 10 year old son who deals with anxiety – usually at night – and in regards to food because of his severe dairy allergy. I am proud of myself because I naturally did a lot of what you recommended above.
I like this new lady – she’s very empathetic and I feel relaxed with her – as does my son after his first session with her. He talked a lot more than I thought he would! However – she is not a psychologist, but a licensed therapist. What are you thoughts on that? Does someone need that degree to effectively help?

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Hey Sigmund

Be guided by your son and by your own intuition. A person certainly doesn’t need a psychology degree to be a good counsellor, though they would need some sort of training. There are plenty of ways to become a counsellor or a therapist. A psychologist has a psychology degree which means that they have received training on various counselling models but other things as well, such as various forms of assessment, interpretation of research, etc. If someone has a masters or a doctorate, then they will have particular expertise and extensive knowledge in that area. A psychology degree, as with any degree, is no guarantee of competence. There are plenty of people with psychology degrees or counselling degrees who are ordinary when it comes to working with people, as there are plenty of professionals in other areas who have great degrees but aren’t great at what they do. Of course there are also plenty of good psychologists and there are plenty of good counsellors. I would consider it really important that the person you are working with have training and experience in the area and the questions here are a great guide. I’m not sure what ‘licensed’ means in this particular instance but presumably if they are licensed, they have completed some sort of training and are registered with a governing body. If this is the case and your son is talking and likes her, then I’d say that ticks a lot of important boxes.

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Yael Clark

A lovely piece and I hope I meet these criteria for my parent and child clients. Unfortunately we work in a system usually governed by Medicare, a system which does not rebate for sessions if the child is not present. There is an inherent contradiction in the FPS mandate which includes “parent skills training” but not parent sessions! Medicare needs to rebate parent sessions. I have found ways to work around this, as have most of us child psychologists, however more of us need to be advocating for best practice (parent only sessions) at the highest levels. One day I will get around to meeting with policy makers!

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Hey Sigmund

I absolutely agree with you! Psychologists have one hour a week with a child (sometimes less), and even though that’s really important it’s the parents who have the greatest capacity to make a difference. Parents are generally really motivated and capable of doing this – they do great things with the right information. None of us were born knowing everything, and it just doesn’t make sense to make it difficult (costly) for parents to access the information they need to be able to be the best they can be for their kids.

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Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. 

But the learning comes from experience. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare

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