Finding the right therapist for a child who has experienced trauma or attachment issues is a crucial step in their healing journey. As parents and caregivers, it is essential to be vigilant and aware of potential red flags that indicate a therapist may not be the best fit for your child. By recognizing these signs, asking the right questions, and observing key factors, you can ensure that your child receives the support they need from a competent and empathetic professional.
Here are some red flags to look out for in the intake appointment, during parent sessions, or during individual/family sessions that may indicate a therapist is not a good/bad fit for your child:
Lack of experience or training:
A therapist who lacks experience or specific training in trauma, attachment, or working with children may not have the necessary expertise to address your child’s needs effectively.
- Ask the therapist about their specific experience and training in working with children who have experienced trauma or attachment issues.
- Inquire about any certifications, specialized courses, or workshops they have completed in these areas.
Disregard attachment theory or the latest brain/neuroscience research:
Attachment theory is a crucial framework for understanding and working with children who have experienced trauma or attachment issues. If a therapist dismisses or ignores attachment theory, it may indicate a lack of understanding in this area.
- Ask the therapist about their understanding and integration of attachment theory into their therapeutic approach.
- Ask about their knowledge of brain-body science and how they use it in their clinical practice.
- Inquire about how they view the impact of early relationships on a child’s development and healing process.
- Observe if the therapist actively discusses and incorporates attachment-related concepts in their conversations with you and your child.
Inability to create a safe environment:
Therapy for children with trauma or attachment issues requires a safe and nurturing environment. If the therapist fails to establish this safe space or consistently violates boundaries, it can hinder the therapeutic process.
- Observe the therapist’s ability to establish a warm, welcoming, and non-judgmental environment during your initial meetings.
- Pay attention to how the therapist responds to your child’s emotions, questions, or disclosures, ensuring they are respectful and supportive.
- Trust your instincts and assess whether you and your child feel safe and comfortable with the therapist.
Overreliance on talk therapy:
While talk therapy can be valuable, children with trauma or attachment issues may struggle to verbalize their experiences and emotions. A therapist who solely relies on traditional talk therapy without incorporating other modalities, such as play or art therapy, may not be effective in engaging your child. Furthermore, only using talk therapy goes against the latest research on the neuro-sequential model of therapeutics and how clinicians should be approaching trauma & attachment.
- Ask the therapist about the various therapeutic modalities they use when working with children who have experienced trauma or attachment issues.
- Inquire about their approach to play therapy, art therapy, or other expressive modalities that may be more suitable and supported by CURRENT research for children and adolescents.
- Observe whether the therapist incorporates different forms of communication, such as play, art, or movement, to engage your child in therapy.
Lack of collaboration with parents or caregivers:
A therapist should involve parents and caregivers as active participants in the therapy process. If a therapist dismisses or minimizes the role of parents or fails to communicate and collaborate with them, it may hinder progress and create a disconnect between therapy and the child’s daily life.
- Inquire about the therapist’s view on the importance of involving parents or caregivers in the therapy process.
- Ask how they plan to communicate and collaborate with you, and discuss your role in supporting your child’s healing outside of therapy sessions.
- Observe if the therapist actively seeks your input, values your observations and insights, and works with you to develop strategies for supporting your child.
Dismissive of cultural or systemic factors:
Trauma and attachment issues are complex and can be influenced by cultural, societal, and systemic factors. A therapist who dismisses or ignores these influences may not provide comprehensive care that addresses the child’s unique needs.
- Ask the therapist about their understanding of cultural and systemic influences on trauma and attachment issues.
- Inquire about how they integrate cultural competence and sensitivity into their therapeutic approach.
- Observe if the therapist acknowledges and respects your child’s cultural background and experiences, and if they consider the impact of systemic factors on their healing journey.
Inflexible or rigid approach:
Children with trauma or attachment issues require an individualized and flexible approach. If a therapist strictly adheres to a one-size-fits-all approach or is unwilling to adapt their techniques to meet your child’s specific needs, it may hinder progress.
- Discuss with the therapist their flexibility in tailoring interventions to meet your child’s specific needs.
- Inquire about their willingness to adjust their approach if something is not working for your child.
- Observe if the therapist adapts their strategies, techniques, or goals based on your child’s progress and changing circumstances.
Lack of understanding of neurodevelopment:
A therapist working with children who have experienced trauma or attachment issues should have a solid understanding of neurodevelopmental principles. This knowledge allows them to tailor interventions that support healthy brain development and regulation.
- Ask the therapist about their knowledge of child development and how trauma affects the developing brain.
- Inquire about their ability to explain complex neurodevelopmental concepts in a way that is understandable to parents.
- Observe if the therapist provides information and guidance on how to support your child’s brain development and regulation outside of therapy.
Inability to establish a therapeutic rapport:
Building a strong therapeutic relationship is essential for effective therapy. If your child consistently expresses discomfort, mistrust, or resistance towards the therapist, it may indicate a lack of rapport, hindering progress.
- Pay attention to your child’s reactions to the therapist during initial meetings and subsequent sessions.
- Observe if your child feels comfortable, safe, and connected with the therapist.
- Discuss your child’s feelings and thoughts about the therapist and their sessions, and take their feedback seriously.
Ignoring the child’s strengths and resilience:
A therapist should acknowledge and build upon the child’s strengths and resilience to foster healing and growth. If a therapist solely focuses on deficits or pathologizes the child, it may not promote a positive therapeutic experience.
- Ask the therapist about their approach to recognizing and building upon your child’s strengths and resilience.
- Observe if the therapist actively encourages and validates your child’s strengths, talents, and abilities during sessions.
- Assess whether the therapist focuses solely on deficits or challenges, or if they highlight and celebrate your child’s resilience and progress.
Choosing a therapist for a child who has experienced trauma or attachment issues requires careful consideration and a thorough evaluation process. By paying attention to red flags such as lack of experience, inflexibility, or disregard for attachment theory, you can avoid potential setbacks and find a therapist who is truly equipped to support your child’s healing. Remember, your child deserves a therapist who understands their unique needs and is committed to fostering a safe and nurturing environment. By advocating for their well-being, you are taking an important step towards their recovery and growth. Trust your instincts and advocate for your child’s needs if you notice any of these red flags.
Check out our Parent Hub’s Handout Section for a checklist of things to consider.