Child and adolescent psychotherapy is a way of exploring in depth a young person’s conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings. Rather than simply tackling the apparent surface “symptom” it uses the relationship in the room between young person and therapist to understand what might be underlying the difficulties, and also to explore other areas which might be causing problems. A child or young person does not need to be able to articulate “what the problem is” in order to access this therapy; children and young people are encouraged to talk (or for younger children play / draw) about whatever comes into their minds, and it is the therapist’s job to identify patterns and make sense of this communication. The relationship with the therapist is crucial as often patterns from other parts of a young person’s life get repeated in the relationship with the therapist, where they can be thought about.
Because psychotherapy works at such a deep level, often with what is not fully conscious, it is often helpful when other therapies have not been helpful. This is because someone coming for therapy might not be fully aware of why it is that they feel or behave a certain way. It is often appropriate for particularly long-standing or complex difficulties, maybe where a young person has a range of interrelated “symptoms”. It is also often the treatment of choice for very young children and young people who would struggle to engage in other ways of working.
Psychotherapy is helpful for a wide range of difficulties which include (but are not limited to):
- social difficultieswithdrawn
- high levels of anger
- children and young people who are
- elective mutism
- issues to do with eating
- relationships with parents
- gender identity issues
- explorations around sexuality
- self-harm / suicidal thoughts
- difficulties sleeping
- children who are looked after
- children who have undergone trauma
Training as a child psychotherapist & gaining registration with the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP) takes a minimum of six to seven years, and requires extensive prior experience of working with children and young people. All child psychotherapists have to undertake their own psychotherapy four times a week for a minimum of five years while training. There are five specialist training organisations in the UK, including the Tavistock (London). There are two components to the training . Firstly the “pre-clinical”, which takes a minimum of two to three years. This includes theoretical foundations, weekly observation of a baby and toddler (and examination of their development in seminars), “work discussion” where trainees’ work with children and young people is examined from a psychoanalytic perspective and child development. The second part of the training is a minimum of four years full time and includes intensive supervision of trainees’ work as a child psychotherapist by senior psychotherapists who are experts in this field, work with young people age 0-24 with a very wide range of difficulties, parent work, brief and long-term interventions and intensive psychotherapy (three times a week or more) with children and young people of different ages. Post qualification the ACP ensures that all therapists continue to have regular supervision and undertake continued professional development.