What is child and adolescent psychotherapy?

Child psychotherapy is often a desired service for children and young people. This article provides a brief description of what it is and what areas it has been shown to be effective on. It also explains the very rigorous training which child psychotherapists undergo. Child psychotherapists generally work in the NHS but some are also available for private work.


What does child psychotherapy help with?

Child psychotherapists treat individual children and young people with a wide variety of difficulties. These include family breakdown, abuse, behavioural disorders, communication disorders such as autism, bedwetting, refusal to go to school, eating difficulties, developmental problems and depression.

What is child psychotherapy?

Child psychotherapy uses regular times and settings and the availability of the psychotherapist’s mind to establish an emotionally containing relationship in which the child’s own view of the world can be expressed, through words and/or actions.

The work of the therapist is to find a way of carefully making this explicit to the child so that a shared insight into the child’s way of functioning is arrived at. Over time, this understanding can be internalised by the child so that he or she can begin to understand their own feelings and behaviour.

Left untreated, children and young people may respond to people and situations in ways they do not understand and cannot control. They may also develop more serious mental illnesses in adulthood.

Does my child need therapy?

It can be very difficult for parents watching their child struggle with difficult feelings, especially when they might also be unsure of how to help them. It can also stir up a range of complex feelings when parents make a decision to seek some help.

It can be a very generous act for a parent to allow their child to find their own voice and understanding of their emotional life.

However, this can also lead parents to feel that they have let their child down or that they are to blame for their child’s difficulties. This is usually not the case. Prior to beginning any individual work with a child, a few appointments are set aside for parents to explore some of these concerns.

It is often found that children who begin to make some sense of their own emotional life, in turn, establish better relationships with those they are close to.

Children playing

Adolescent psychotherapy

Psychotherapy can be very useful in helping to understand and support the experiences of adolescence and early adulthood. During this developmental phase, earlier difficulties and traumas can be unexpectedly stirred up. Providing a framework for understanding these deeper levels of anxiety, can support the processes of individuation and personal growth.

The evidence for child psychotherapy

An independent systematic review of research into the effectiveness of psychoanalytic psychotherapy for children and young people was carried out in 2004.

It found that child psychotherapy was effective in treating children and young people with:

  • depression
  • anxiety or behaviour disorders
  • personality disorders
  • learning difficulties
  • eating disorders
  • developmental issues

Professional training

The Association of Child Psychotherapy (ACP) is the only professional organisation for Child Psychotherapists in the United Kingdom. It has a code of ethics for all its members.

Established in 1949, it is recognised by the Department of Health as the body which accredits trainings in child and adolescent psychotherapy and is the designated authority for the qualifications of child and adolescent psychotherapist from the European Union who wish to work in the UK.

Child psychotherapists are trained within the NHS to clinical doctoral equivalence. This intensive six-year training, which also involves personal psychoanalysis, equips them to work sensitively and carefully with children, young people, families and adults.

If you would like any further details about child psychotherapy, please contact me.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Liverpool, Merseyside, L19 5NZ
Written by Todd Hinds, Child and Adolescent Analyst Adult Psychoanalyst
Liverpool, Merseyside, L19 5NZ

Psychoanalysis, is the method of working with anxieties and patterns of behaviour whose origins may stem from very early experiences.  This method provides a way of understanding how the present is experienced through an appreciation of how past experiences may bear upon it. Those who wish to u...


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