“How long will this take?” is a question we get a lot as counselors. The answer is, “We don’t know.” We don’t really know when your child will be ready to process his or her trauma, or how long your child will need to work through it. What we do know is that therapy helps child with trauma and attachment issues. Therapy gives children a safe place to share their thoughts and feelings. Therapy gives children a place to practice building a relationship with a trusting adult. Therapy provides opportunities to learn and practice skills. Therapy can help deepen family relationships. It can help provide prospective on child and family interactions. Therapy can help make meaning out of past experiences. How quickly? Well, we don’t know. What we do know are things that contribute to productive therapy.
Regular and Adequate Nutrition.
Based on research done by Karyn Purvis and Trauma Based Relationsal Intervention (TBRI), we know that kids function best when well-fed and well-hydrated. If you want to feed your child a meal or snack before they visit us, please feel free. Otherwise, we may offer your child a water bottle and snack when they arrive. When their brains and bodies are fed, children feel more ready to engage in therapeutic activities.
Try to keep regular appointments. Children tend to thrive on routine and structure (even if they sometimes fight it). Keeping regular appointments helps make therapy productive because it keeps children’s brains “in the zone” of processing during that time every week. Regularity also helps reinforce skills taught in session, which leads to the next point: practicing skills at home.
At Home Practice.
If possible, ask your therapist or child what they are practicing in session and use that same intervention at home. Maybe it’s deep breaths. Maybe it’s “Stop and Think.” Maybe it’s, “Take a break.” Whatever the intervention, practicing it at home makes it more likely to stick, and more likely to be accessible as a coping skill when hard things are discussed in session.
Time and Trust.
Giving your child time to learn to trust his or her therapist benefits the therapeutic process. Allowing your child to “take it slow” without forcing the child to “get fixed” prevents further trauma and allows the therapeutic relationship to build at a pace comfortable to the child. Please do tell your child that the therapist is a safe and trusted person. Please do normalize therapy as a helping process. Please don’t use therapy as a threat or way to shame your child when your child struggles with behaviors. Therapy is not intended to be a consequence for behavior, but rather a commitment to helping and supporting in any way that we can.
“How long will this take?” Good question. We really don’t know how long it will take for your child to process and work through his or her trauma, but we’re committed to traveling that path with him or her, however long it takes.
-Sarah Earles, MS, LAC, Child and Family Therapist