Here are some general FAQs with answers. If you have specific questions about the therapy prescribed to you or your child, ask the therapist you are seeing.
1) What is psychotherapy (si ko ther’ uh pee)?
It is the name for a group of therapies that help you make changes. This is most commonly “talk therapy”, which is based on verbal communication. Some examples are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) and family therapy. It can also include non-verbal means of expression including art, play, mindfulness, and movement. Psychotherapy can be effective if you are having difficulties with your feelings, thoughts, or behaviours. In therapy, children and youth may be encouraged to talk, play, draw, build and pretend, as ways to share feelings and work out problems. Psychotherapy can be used with individuals, families, or groups.
2) How effective is psychotherapy?
The number of evidence-based psychotherapies that are available is increasing. The Effective Child Therapy website explains which types of therapy have evidence for specific problems.
There is evidence that CBT, DBT, IPT and family therapy are effective for a wide range of mental health challenges and disorders in children, youth, and adults. Other types of therapy have less research behind them but may still be helpful. For example, art therapy can be effective for children who have great difficulty talking about their problems. It is also possible to adapt an evidence-based therapy for a particular child.
3) What is the difference between Psychologists, Psychiatrists and Counsellors?
Psychologists (si col’ uh gists) have advanced training at the doctoral level. They study how we think, feel and behave, and use this knowledge to help people understand and change their thoughts, feelings, or behaviour. They can assess, diagnose and treat mental health conditions in children and youth. They may have training in the uses of medication to treat mental illness, but they do not prescribe medication.
Psychiatrists (si ki’ uh trists) are medical doctors who have specialized in mental health. They can prescribe medication to help people manage their mental illness. Many psychiatrists also do psychotherapy. There are a limited number of child and youth psychiatrists in BC, and so other mental health providers deliver most of psychotherapy. The BC Medical Services Plan pays for visits to a psychiatrist and so there is no charge to patients.
Counsellors have a range of backgrounds. They may have a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral level degree. People can say they are "counsellors" or "therapists," but they may or may not have training in the assessment or treatment of mental health challenges. Counsellors may be very knowledgeable, but law doesn’t allow them to diagnose mental health conditions.
4) Our doctor/psychologist suggested group therapy for my child, but my child doesn't like groups. Should we still go?
Group therapy is effective for many types of mental health challenges. Often children and youth are hesitant about meeting in a group setting. Try to encourage your child to go to the first session and just listen. Explain that they don’t have to share and be an active member of the group until they feel comfortable and safe there. Children and youth often end up really enjoying the process of connecting with peers and meeting others with similar struggles.
5) Will I (parent/caregiver) be involved in the therapy?
That depends on the type of therapy. Parents can be involved in many ways. It is always important for them to listen and be supportive. If you have concerns about not being involved enough or being too involved, bring this up with the therapist.
6) How often and how long should I expect therapy to last? How soon can we expect to see some changes?
We would all like to have an answer for these questions but everybody is unique. Each therapy is different and is adapted to help the individual and their family. If you have tried one type of therapy and have not seen any progress after 3 or 4 months, you might want to see if another type of therapy helps. Always talk with the therapist about your concerns, and include your child’s opinion on whether therapy is helpful. Sometimes changes within your child are not obvious to others, even to parents.
7) What if my child doesn't connect with their therapist?
It is very important to find the right therapist. The relationship between the therapist and client is one of the most important predictors of success. You can encourage your child to try a few sessions before deciding if the fit is right or not. Youth and/or parents should discuss concerns about the therapy with the therapist as a first step. If it really doesn’t seem like it will work out, then look for another option, but don’t give up on therapy.
8) How do we access psychotherapy? How much does therapy cost?
There are many ways to access psychotherapy in BC – some charge a fee, and others are free of charge.
Private psychologists or counsellors charge a fee for their services. Your extended health plan or employee assistance program may pay the fees. Some therapists offer lower or subsidized rates. To find a private psychologist or counsellor, visit www.psychologists.bc.ca or www.bc-counsellors.org.
Free mental health treatment is available through Child and Youth Mental Health. They use a team approach and offer a variety of services. The team includes social workers, psychologists, nurses, clinicians and outreach workers. It is a part of the Ministry of Children and Family Development in BC.
BC Children’s Hospital also provides mental health services* to children and youth from across BC. These services include:
- psychiatric treatment
- short-term individual, family, and group treatment
- medication review.
*By referral only (except for the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Emergency Unit).
Many community-based organizations also offer free or low-cost counselling, peer support, or support groups.
Contact us for more information about any of the above services. We also have information about other options or supports that may be available to you and your family.
9) My child doesn't want to miss school. Can we still do therapy?
Some therapists can work around your child’s schedule and offer therapy after school, evenings and weekends. If the problem is severe, your family may decide to put therapy first for a time. Discuss these concerns with the therapist and school if needed. Remember that learning and progress at school depend on good mental health.
10) My child is the one struggling, why has our health care professional suggested family therapy or going to a parent group?
Family therapy means that other family members besides your child will be involved in the therapy process. The family's strengths can be used to help your child handle problems. Family therapy is a very active type of therapy. Members of the family are often asked to be involved both inside and outside of sessions. In some cases, parents can make changes that have a positive effect on a child’s struggle even when a child is unwilling to attend therapy.
Parent groups can help parents cope with the challenges they are experiencing. It can be very helpful to hear other stories, ask questions and be part of a group that has open and honest communication.
11) How do I make sure my child's therapist gets the full story of what's going on?
Therapists are skilled, highly educated and experienced. They usually specialize in specific areas of mental health and in working with parents, children and youth. If you aren’t sure the therapist is getting the full story, don’t hesitate to ask. The therapist should be available to talk to you and to answer your questions.
It is very important to youth that their relationship with the therapist is confidential. That is also the law, except for emergencies. The therapist should answer any questions the youth or family have about information sharing. Except in rare cases, youth should be told if parents or others share any information about them with the therapist.
12) Can I learn some of the skills learned in therapy to support my child?
Yes! Absolutely! Family members often learn skills to support their loved ones when they attend therapy together. These skills can be used at home, and long after therapy has ended. In most cases, it is extremely helpful for parents to learn what their child is learning. This is why many types of therapy include parents in individual sessions or parent groups.
13) My child is already seeing their school counsellor. Do they really need another therapist?
Seeing a school counsellor can be a great place to start. It is common for children and families to see their school counsellor to receive support before referral to a mental health service.
The role of a school counsellor can vary from school to school. They often focus on managing the child's behaviour and supporting the student in the classroom. Some counsellors may provide short-term counselling in the school setting, while others may focus more on guidance related to academic needs and supports.
If your child requires ongoing counselling or a specific type of therapy, this is not usually provided by school counsellors. A referral to a psychologist or another mental health clinician (e.g. registered clinical counsellor) is often necessary. A referral may also be made to a school psychologist, if available in the school district.
School counsellors work closely with students, parents, teachers, and often other providers in the community. They may continue to provide support at school while the child participates in other therapy.