What Every Parent Should Know About Counselling (For a Child or Teenager)

Our psychologists have provided counselling for 1,225 children, teenagers and parents in the last several years. Here are 20 things parents should know before booking any counselling sessions for a child or teenager:

1. WHEN should parents consider counselling for a child or teenager?

Counselling may be helpful if there are any social or emotional challenges are impacting on a child’s ability to:

  • Participate in normal daily activities
  • Attend school (without resistance or refusal)
  • Focus and concentrate in class
  • Do their schoolwork
  • Get along with friends, teachers, parents or siblings
  • Sleep
  • Perform to their full potential
  • Or simply enjoy life

2. What types of ISSUES, CONCERNS or CHALLENGES does counselling help with?

Counselling may be helpful for a wide range of mild-to-moderate social or emotional or learning concerns, including:

  • Worry or anxiety
  • Negative, perfectionistic or self-critical thinking
  • Lack of confidence or resilience
  • Sadness or depression
  • Difficult behaviour
  • Anger or emotional outbursts
  • Sibling rivalry or conflict
  • Social skills or friendship issues
  • Study skills, organisation and motivation

3. What issues may NOT be suitable for counselling?

This depends on the type of psychologist or medical practitioner providing the service.

For example, our psychologists are not clinical psychologists or psychiatrists and do not provide treatment for serious mental health disorders. (Our focus is on Educational and Developmental Psychology.)

If parents need help with any of the following issues, we recommend consulting a GP or paediatrician as the first step:

  • Severe behavioural problems
  • Physical aggression (kicking, punching or biting)
  • Serious clinical mental health issues (such as severe anxiety or depression)
  • Severe social impairment
  • Severe learning problems or intellectual delay

4. How does counselling help YOUNG CHILDREN?

The first step is to help young children recognise and understand the feelings they are experiencing and the labels associated with those feelings. For example, anxiety, worry, anger, sadness, etc.

The next step is to teach them more effective thinking and coping skills and how to regulate their own emotions, using evidence-based and age-appropriate methods.

Role plays, relaxation and mindfulness techniques may also be helpful.

And after the immediate challenges are dealt with, the aim is to develop longer term resilience and practical “life skills”.

However, the younger the age of the child, the more of a focus there is on helping PARENTS to help them – as that is what creates the best outcomes. 🙂

5. How does counselling help TEENAGERS?

Counselling helps teenagers become more aware of the situations, reactions and thinking patterns that affect their emotions.

Counselling teaches them more effective thinking and coping skills so they can learn to regulate their own emotions.

Role plays, relaxation and mindfulness techniques may also be helpful.

Teenagers are often dealing with more complex and challenging emotional and social concerns so counselling tends to take a bit longer than it would for younger children.

Teenagers also require more privacy and confidentiality, although it’s important to include parents as much as possible in the process.

After the immediate challenges are dealt with, the aim is to develop resilience and practical “life skills” that will benefit them throughout adolescence and into adulthood.

6. How does counselling help PARENTS?

It might not always feel like it 🙂 but parents have a major influence on children’s beliefs, attitudes and behaviour. So parents have a huge role to play in helping create positive outcomes for kids!

That’s why we place a strong emphasis on working together with one or both parents (even in separated families when possible) to achieve the best possible outcomes for everyone.

Our psychologists help with parenting strategies, navigating the school system or dealing with any challenging aspects of family life.

We provide parents with support, counselling and action plans so they can help kids learn to overcome challenges so they can reach their full potential – at school and in life.

7. What counselling METHODS are useful for children or teenagers?

Our psychologists draw from a range of useful evidence-based approaches, including:

  • Psycho-education
  • Mindfulness
  • Positive Psychology
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

So what do these things mean?

Psycho-education is about teaching kids to understand their thoughts, feelings and emotions and how they are linked.

Mindfulness refers to becoming more aware of thoughts and feelings as they occur, without judgement. This can help to reduce stress and anxiety and to enable children to accept and let go of challenging thoughts and emotions.

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helps children gain more control of their emotions by learning how to intentionally change the way they think about things and the language they use.

There are several different forms of CBT but in general CBT is regarded as the “gold standard” when it comes to evidence-based counselling methods.

Positive psychology and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) are other evidence-based approaches which can be very useful in helping kids understand and reach their full potential.

However, the approach always needs to be tailored to the child’s specific needs, age, personality, stage of development and what’s happening in their family life or at school.

8. WHO can provide counselling services?

You might be surprised to learn that there are no specific qualifications required for someone to call themselves a “counsellor”…

Nevertheless, teachers and school counsellors (who may not be psychologists) are often a very helpful source of “front-line” help for minor issues that flare up during the school day.

But for more difficult or ongoing challenges, most healthcare experts recommend consulting a registered psychologist with specific training and experience in helping children and adolescents.

Some schools also offer on-campus psychology services. This can be a convenient and low cost option but there may be privacy, impartiality and confidentiality concerns, especially for teenagers. (It is nearly impossible to attend counselling at a busy school without other kids being aware of it.)

9. How can parents make sure it is the “RIGHT FIT”?

Research shows that, to achieve the best possible results from counselling, the therapeutic relationship between the psychologist and person receiving counselling is at least as important as the counselling methods used.

Therefore, for younger children, we recommend that one or both parents meet with the psychologist first WITHOUT the child present.

This is so they can discuss the background situation and concerns openly, ask questions, and make sure it is a good fit before booking any sessions for their child.

However, it may be best to include older teenagers in the initial consultation to make sure they feel included in the process.

10. What should parents tell their child BEFORE they come to counselling?

Parents can tell children that they are going to visit a psychologist – a type of “coach” who helps kids learn skills to handle all sorts of everyday things, such as situations, thoughts, feelings and dealing with other people.

They will spend some time with the psychologist talking about the good aspects of their life and also those aspects that may need some improvement.

They will be able to talk about their family and friends and will also be learning some skills to help them cope better at school and at home.

For teenagers, parents may like to assure them that the psychologist is not a psychiatrist (medical doctor) and does not treat serious mental illness.

Rather, we operate in more of a “coaching” role to help them learn how to cope and perform better and feel more in control.

11. What if a child doesn’t want to ENGAGE in counselling?

In our experience this is fairly uncommon – especially after we give parents advice about how to approach kids.

However, sometimes older teenagers can be resistant to the idea of getting some help, and it is important to get them on board with the process at the start.

We recommend focusing on the  “performance coaching” angle which is about helping them to improve skills and performance, rather than “treatment” of any issues or problems.

12. What should parents EXPECT when they bring their child to counselling?

At each session children will typically spend some time individually with the psychologist.

We invite parents back into the session for the last 10-15 minutes to give them a summary of what was achieved during the session, so we can all work together to achieve the best possible outcomes.

Sometimes parents may choose to stay with a young child during a session, particularly if it is the first session and there is some separation anxiety.

However, it is usually best for kids to have an opportunity to express their own opinions and ideas without mum or dad in the room.

13. What does counselling INVOLVE?

The exact approach depends on the age, issues and personality of the child as well as the therapeutic approach of the psychologist.

But we generally do not recommend abstract “talk therapy” for most kids. Instead, we find that children benefit from a more practical skills-based approach.

Our aim is to equip them with strategies and “life skills” to cope with adversity, boost resilience and learn how to reach their full potential.

This typically includes one or more of the following:

  • Learning how to to become more aware and accepting of challenging thoughts and emotions.
  • Learning how to replace unhelpful thinking patterns (such as excessively negative, unrealistic or critical thoughts) with more realistic, practical and helpful thoughts.
  • Role plays and active learning methods to deal with specific challenging situations.
  • Relaxation strategies.

Our general philosophy is to help kids and parents become more empowered and motivated to make the necessary changes to reach their potential.

14. How does CONFIDENTIALITY work?

Children need to have a private space where they can safely and freely express their thoughts and feelings without the scrutiny of parents.

For young children, parental involvement is necessary for change, and we encourage parents to participate in a brief review at the end of the session.

Teenagers are usually more concerned with privacy. We encourage teenagers to share a review of the counselling session with parents. However, we respect their wishes to maintain confidentiality and privacy.

(However, confidentiality must be broken if we believe a child is at risk of causing any serious harm to themselves or others.)

15. How much does counselling COST?

The current (2018-2019) fee recommended by the Australian Psychological Society for a 50 minute consultation is $251.

However, psychology fees vary widely, depending on the location and type of practice.

For example, we offer a 100% private and independent service, outside of the school system. And there are substantial overheads involved in providing a high quality service with experienced staff psychologists in a comfortable office, in a central location.

For parents who cannot afford private counselling there are some limited government-funded options available, including Headspace. Parents can visit their a GP to ask for a referral.

16. Are there any MEDICARE REBATES available for counselling?

Yes, if parents obtain a “Mental Health Care Plan” for their child, from a GP or paediatrician, they will be able to claim Medicare rebates for up to 10 counselling sessions in a calendar year.

However, the standard Medicare rebate for counselling is $84.80. This rebate has not changed since it was introduced in 2006 and it only covers about one third of the current recommended counselling fee. (This is why psychologists typically cannot bulk-bill.)

Most doctors require a long consultation with the parent and the child to issue a plan and referral for the child.

(But parents do not need a referral to choose a psychologist and attend an initial parent consultation.)

17. Are there any PRIVATE HEALTH REBATES available for counselling?

If parents have cover that includes psychology they may be able to claim private health rebates for counselling.

In some cases the private health rebate can even be higher than the Medicare rebate, so it is worth checking.

Note: It is only possible to claim either a private health rebate OR a Medicare rebate at each session, but not both.

18. How MANY counselling sessions are required?

The number of sessions required depends on the specific issues, as well as the motivation and effort of the child and parents to apply the strategies and skills taught in counselling.

But we find that children with most common emotional or social concerns – for example, mild-to-moderate anxiety or worry – typically require around 6 sessions to make solid progress.

Parents may also benefit from one or two counselling sessions to help with parenting strategies and keep everyone “on the same page” – to get the best possible outcomes.

(Of course, more severe or longer term issues may require more help than this.)

19. How OFTEN do kids need to attend counselling sessions?

Again, this depends on the specific concerns and how quickly progress is being made.

But for most mild-to-moderate issues we find that a few weekly sessions is enough to get on top of any immediate challenges, followed by some fortnightly sessions to practise and reinforce new skills and habits.

20. How QUICKLY will parents see results from counselling?

Once again, this depends on the specific concerns and how quickly progress is made.

But we generally expect to see noticeable progress within the first few sessions.

After that it is important to make sure that the new skills are practised in different situations until they become habits.

What is the NEXT STEP?

If you think our service might be a good fit for your child’s needs the first step is to book a 50 minute parent consultation at our office in Port Melbourne.

This is your opportunity to meet the psychologist, discuss the background issues in detail and get the right advice for your child’s needs.

You will have the opportunity to ask questions and make an informed decision before you book any appointments for your child.

The psychologist can also give you some information to take to the GP to help with the referral process.

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Why have 2,866* parents chosen us?

(*As of 24th July, 2019.)

  • Private and confidential: We are a private service so you will receive 100% independent and confidential advice.
  • Child and adolescent experts: We only work with school age children, teenagers and parents.
  • Education and school experts: We will help you navigate the school system to get the best possible results for your child.
  • Qualified and experienced: We only employ psychologists with a master degree or higher and experience working in schools.
  • Fast appointments: We don't keep a waiting list and see most new clients within 7 days.
  • Convenient location: We are in Middle Park with easy access from many parts of Melbourne and unrestricted street parking.
  • Trusted methods: We use approaches that are strongly supported by research evidence or clinical experience.
  • Lovely beachside office: You will love our quiet, modern and attractive office, with its beach and ocean-themed rooms.