A child is typically brought into therapy by a parent worried about his behavior. Whether the child is experiencing social difficulties, separation anxiety at school or impulsivity following a trauma such as a divorce, the behavior can be looked at as a call for extra support. Often the parent can use the help of a caring, neutral observer, one who has seen a lot of children with problems and can offer access to a wider perspective. As a therapist I strive to become a non-judgemental, caring helper for both child and parent, being there without being in the way, a little like a spotter for a gymnast who provides security that opens up space for new learning.

Therapy with children

A child tends to act out difficulties with toys and repetitive role-playing. The research psychologist Dr. Edward Tronick describes a small child traumatized by having watched on TV people leaping from the World Trade Center on 9/11. The child led her therapist to jump from a play structure with her, repetitively, session after session. The therapist added to the ritual the concept of practicing "soft landings," and the child's anxious behaviors at home gradually went away.

Therapy with children generally involves a three-pronged approach. First, communicating with the child through dramatic play and talk and assisting the child in finding pretend as well as real ways to work on his problems. Second, communicating with the parents and assisting them in finding concrete ways to help their child work out his problems. Third, helping the parent consider how her own history may be impacting her ability to reflect on her child's mind in moments of intense emotion, an ability which greatly increases a child's feeling of security.


Explosive growth of neurons and hormonal changes make this time almost like a second infancy. New cognitive processing skills are matched by losses in regulatory abilities. At the same time, the adolescent seeks independence from his parents and is less willing to use their experience to fill in gaps in his own.  Adolescents tend to be impulsive and prone to emotional storms. Drug use and untreated depression are the biggest risks. A non-judgmental and -- perhaps more importantly -- non-parental adult listener can be extremely helpful during this stage of life.