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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Today was an ending and a beginning. My darling girl finished year 12. The final year at school is tough enough, but this year was seismic. Our teens have moved through this year with the most outstanding courage and grace and strength, and now it is time for them to rest and play. My gosh they deserve it. 

It is true that this is a time of celebration, but it can also be an intense time of self-reflection for our teens. (I can remember the same feelings when my gorgeous boy finished so many years ago!) My daughter has described it as, ‘I feel as though I’ve outgrown myself but my new self isn’t ready yet.’ This just makes so much sense. 

There is a beautifully fertile void that is waiting for whatever comes next for each of them, but that void is still a void. At different times it might feel exciting, overwhelming, or brutal in its emptiness.

We also have to remember that this is a time of letting go, and there might be grief that comes with that. Before they can grab on to their next big adventure, they have to let go of the guard rails. This means gently adjusting their hold on the world they have known for the last 12+ years, with its places and routines and people that have felt like home on so many days. There will be redirects and shiftings, and through it all the things that need to stay will stay, and the things that need to adjust will adjust. 

To my darling girl, your loved incredible friends, and the teens who make our world what it is - you are the beautiful  thinkers, the big feelers, the creators, the change makers, and the ones who will craft and grow a better world. However you might feel now, the lights are waiting to shine for you and because of you. The world beyond school is opening its arms to you. That opening might happen quickly, or gently, or smoothly or chaotically, but it will happen. This world needs every one of you - your voices, your spirits, your fire, your softness, your strength and your power. You are world-ready, and we are so glad you are here xxx
When our kids or teens are in high emotion, their words might sound anxious, angry, inconsolable, jealous, defiant. As messy as the words might be, they have a good reason for being there. Big feelings surge as a way to influence the environment to meet a need. Of course, sometimes the fallout from this can be nuclear.
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Wherever there is a big emotion, there will always be an important need behind it - safety, comfort, attention, food, rest, connection. The need will always be valid, even if the way they’re going about meeting it is a little rough. As with so many difficult parenting moments, there will be gold in the middle of the mess if we know where to look. 
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There will be times for shaping the behaviour into a healthier response, but in the middle of a big feeling is not one of those times. Big feelings are NOT a sign of dysfunction, bad kids or bad parenting. They are a part of being human, and they bring rich opportunities for wisdom, learning and growth. .
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Parenting isn’t about stopping the emotional storms, but about moving through the storm and reaching the other side in a way that preserves the opportunity for our kids and teens to learn and grow from the experience - and they will always learn best from experience. 
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To calm a big feeling, name what you see, ‘I can see you’re disappointed. I know how much you wanted that’, or, ‘I can see this feels big for you,’ or, ‘You’re angry at me about .. aren’t you. I understand that. I would be mad too if I had to […],’ or ‘It sounds like today has been a really hard day.’ 
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When we connect with the emotion, we help soothe the nervous system. The emotion has done its job, found support, and can start to ease. 
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When they are at that line, deciding whether to retreat to safety or move forward into brave, there will be a part of them that will know they have what it takes to be brave. It might be pale, or quiet, or a little tumbled by the noise from anxiety, but it will be there. And it will be magical. Our job as their flight crew is to clear the way for this magical part of them to rise. ‘I can see this feels scary for you - and I know you can do this.’ 
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When our kids or teens are struggling, it can be hard to know what they need. It can also be hard for them to say. It can be this way for all of us - we don't always know what we need from the people around us. It might be space, or distraction, or silence, or maybe acknowledging and being there is enough. Sometimes we might need to know that the people we love aren't taking our need for space, or our confusion or anger or sadness personally, and that they are still there within reach.
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What can be easier is thinking about what other people might need. Asking this when they are calm can invite a different perspective and can give you some insight into what they need to hear when they are going through similar. Don't worry if you just get a shrug, or a disheartened, 'I don't know'. They don't need to know, and neither do we. The question in itself might be enough to open a new way through any sense of 'stuckness' or helplessness they might be feeling.
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Give them space to talk but you don’t need to fix anything. You’ll want to, but the answers are in them, not us. Sometimes the answer will be to feel it out, or push for change, or feel the futility of it all so the feeling can let go, knowing it’s done it’s job - it’s recruited support, or raised awareness that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the feelings might be seismic but the words might be gone for a while. That’s okay too. Do they want to start with whatever words are there? Or talk about something else? Or go for a walk with you? Watch a movie with you? Or do a spontaneous, unnecessary drive thru with you just because you can - no words, no need to explain - just you and them and car music for the next 20 minutes. 

The more you can validate what they’re feeling (maybe, ‘Today was big for you wasn’t it’) and give them space to feel, the more they can feel the feeling, understand the need that’s fuelling it, and experiment with ways to deal with it. Sometimes, ‘dealing with it’ might mean acknowledging that there is something that feels big or important and a little out of reach right now, and feeling the fullness and futility of that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days are rubbish, and that sometimes those days 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.

I wish our kids never felt pain, but we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide how our children grow, but we do get to decide how much space and support we give them for this growth. We can love them through it but we can’t love them out of it. I wish we could but we can’t.

So instead of feeling the need to silence their pain, make space for it. In the end we have no choice. Sometimes all the love in the world won’t be enough to put the wrong things right, but it can help them feel held while they move through the pain enough to find their out breath, and the strength that comes with that.♥️

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