Depression, Anxiety and Phobias
“Is this age appropriate? Normal?”
“I was never like that – maybe there is something really wrong.”
“This is no longer a phase… Now I am really getting worried.”
Throughout development, it is not uncommon for children to develop fears or experince a range of emotions. Having worked with children and youth for many years, I have come to believe that the children of today are much more sensitive and aware than earlier generations. An increased awareness of child development, a more developed body of literature on parenting and a multitude of other factors have contributed to children expressing themselves more readily about their thoughts and feelings.
Parents and caregivers may become concerned about a child or youth who is s expressing thoughts and feelings. Some adults may feel ill-equipped to guide their child through the intensity of these feelings and thoughts. Parents may not have been afforded support in their own childhood to make sense of thoughts and feelings and find themselves struggling with how to do it in ways that are age appropriate.
Providing psychotherapy for a child gives reassurance to the entire family that the emotions, thoughts and behaviours of the child or youth make sense. Once understood, it is possible to make changes that are beneficial and supportive to healthy child development. All behaviour serves a purpose and identifying the purpose of that behaviour is an essential part of the change process.
At times, the experience of depression and anxiety may become extreme and outside the range of what friends and family consider normal or healthy. In such situations, there can often be little sense made of the behaviours and a clinical mental health diagnosis may be indicated. Children and families may become overwhelmed or frightened by the diagnosis.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) may be a helpful modality at such times. CBT is a primary approach to assisting and supporting a child or youth. Thoughts, feelings and behaviours can be considered to assist the child and youth to determine where change is needed. There are many techniques and skills that are age appropriate and that may dramatically change a child or youth’s life experience. Learning that they are in control of their lives and can direct their own experience is a tremendously empowering and motivating experience.
CBT, combined with recent knowledge about neurobiology, is at the heart of my treatment approach. As the child or youth progresses through the treatment process, they learn that they can alter their thought processes, gain control of their emotions, and change their behaviour.
Elements of play therapy are also utilized to respect the unique personality and skill of each child and youth. At times, joint sessions with parents, caregivers and other family members may be necessary so that the child or youth can inform members of their team that they need support and encouragement. The numbers of sessions are dependent upon the complexity of the issues and the goals of the child/youth, but usually six to eight sessions are needed.
Possible signs or symptoms that warrant a consultation:
- Temper tantrums that adults and caregivers can no longer tolerate or manage
- Inability to perform activities of daily living – self care, regular routines or activities
- Loss of joy for life or pleasure in previously loved activities
- Expressions of emotions that debilitate the child/youth
- Appearance of behaviours that seem odd, out of place or don’t make sense to either the child and/or adult