DC Psychotherapy (swoosh logo) Central Washington Psychotherapy Associates 

Psychotherapy in the Washington, DC metro area


Psychotherapy for Children, Adolescents and Families

By Norine E. Lyons, M.A., LPC

Maybe the fights between your five-year old and seven-year old are getting worse. Or your toddler is waking up with nightmares three times a week. Your formerly sunshiny 10-year old has turned 16 with no friends, no interests, and a sudden hatred for school. Maybe school has said that your child is hyper-sensitive, distant, angry, defiant or aggressive.

Perhaps there are problems such as tantrums or other explosive behaviors, social isolation, not paying attention in class, or bullying, Maybe you're seeing signs of drug or alcohol use, cutting or other self-injury. Or you're dealing with a major upheaval, such as divorce or other family crisis, the challenges of being a single parent, or bringing two families together. The reasons for seeking help are as varied as children and families themselves.

Communication problems often bring families to therapy—when every conversation turns into an argument, and any warmth or nurturing has faded away. Often, an unfortunate cycle starts: every interaction feels like nagging by the parent, and is met by the child with eye-rolling or an angry, sarcastic response. You're no longer giving a little shoulder-squeeze as you walk by—and your child no longer laughs with you or tells you about her day. Without the warm give-and-take, parent and child both get ”stuck.“ Kids conclude their parents don't care; parents become hurt and frustrated and give up.

It doesn't have to be that way. Psychotherapy can make a huge difference.

What to expect in work with parents and families

My work with you will always assume that you are the expert on your child. Working together, we'll explore your child's natural temperament and determine the best ways for you to help your child develop and grow. We'll find ways to change negative interactions and get the conversation going again.

Photo of Child Sometimes all that parents need is to learn new communication skills appropriate to a child's emotional style and developmental level. Other times, the work will go deeper as parents explore issues from their own childhoods—wounds that have been revealed again as a child reaches the same age the parent was when the wound occurred.

For example, a parent who experienced rejection and pain during a lonely adolescence may become anxious and fearful when a child turns 13 or 14. The parent may become overly protective and, without meaning to, cause conflict by discouraging the child's explorations away from family and toward friends. By processing old sorrows in therapy, a parent can heal the wound and move on. And when that happens, the parent is able to grant a child appropriate freedoms and encourage independence.

In other situations, the entire family will come to therapy sessions. My work here is to create a safe environment where distressing issues and feelings can be explored. When each member feels heard and accepted, change can take place and healthier connections are formed; the family then becomes a safe place from which to reach out and explore the world, and a haven to return to for warmth and support.

Individual psychotherapy with adolescents and children

Individual psychotherapy with older adolescents is much like psychotherapy with adults. Older teens will usually come to psychotherapy sessions on their own, focusing on their own struggles and problems, their relationships and dreams. While respecting the teen's privacy, and in careful agreement with a teen about what is to be shared, I will generally provide feedback to parents about the progress being made, and meet with the parents from time to time.

Photo of Child Younger children often lack the words to express their feelings. They show their distress in other ways: for example, they'll have problems in school or with with peers, engage in ”dare-devil“ behaviors, have trouble sleeping or eating. They may seem sad, worried or irritable, or have physical complaints for which a pediatrician can find no cause.

Part of my work with children is to help them learn to name their feelings—but, more often, to explore their emotions through play. Play, it has been said, is the work of childhood. It is also the way a child learns to experience the world and feel mastery over troubling emotions and environments. Play therapy with children can take may forms. For example, by select miniature figures and building a ”world“ in a sand tray, a child finds a powerful way to express what he or she feels. Healing takes place, and the child's normal development can continue. With younger children, meetings with the parents are more frequent, and the parent learns to support the child's growth.

From my experience working with children and parents, I know the difference psychotherapy can make. The way a child can grow and change physically is matched by an enormous capacity for emotional growth—which has made my work immensely rewarding. My goal is to help you create the kind of relationship that you want to have with your child—and to make that bond a source of joy, warmth and strength for both of you for the rest of your lives.

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