How to choose the right counsellor for your child?

Discover how to choose the right counselor for your child. Understand the difference between counselors and psychotherapists, and learn about the essential qualifications a counselor should possess. Explore the best approaches in children's counseling, including person-centered therapy, play therapy, CBT, art therapy, and narrative therapy. Compare the benefits of online counseling versus face-to-face sessions. Find out where to locate a qualified counselor for your child, from pediatricians and family doctors to mental health organizations and online directories. Make an informed choice to ensure a positive impact on your child's well-being. Read more now


6/13/20234 min read

You might be considering reaching out for help or feeling quite alarmed because the school called you to inform you about your child’s panic attack. You don’t want to be alone in this but don’t know where to start. I get you. Finding a counsellor can be overwhelming as Google will throw thousands of results with directories, websites and sponsored websites promising a better tomorrow. On top of it, there are plenty of listings and psychology-related jargon that no one has explained. Moreover, research indicates that the biggest factor in counselling effectiveness is the relationship between the therapist and the client. That’s why in this article, I will explore key factors to help you make an informed choice.

The Difference Between Counselors and Psychotherapists:

While the terms "counsellor" and "psychotherapist" are often used interchangeably, there are some distinctions to be aware of. In theory, counsellors focus on short-term interventions and may provide guidance, support, and strategies to help children overcome specific challenges. On the other hand, psychotherapists work with individuals on deeper, long-term issues, employing various therapeutic techniques. In addition, professional bodies such as the UKCP (the UK Council for Psychotherapy) require that for the title of a psychotherapist, one must be trained to level 7, which is normally a 4-year postgraduate course. However, there are currently no legal restrictions surrounding the title of psychotherapist or counsellor, so it’s best to check the qualifications of a professional you’re considering hiring.

Qualifications of a Counselor:

When selecting a counsellor for your child, it is essential to consider their qualifications. Look for counsellors with at least a level 4 diploma in counselling or a university degree. Even though counsellors and psychotherapists are not legally required to join a professional organization, being a member indicates that they have fulfilled specific criteria established by their professional body and are bound by a code of ethics and a procedure for handling complaints. Some of the popular bodies in the UK are BACP, NCPS, ACP, BABCP, among others. It is crucial to find a counsellor who has received specialized training in child development and child psychology, as this expertise is vital when working with young individuals.

Best Approaches in Children's Counseling:

Counsellors practice different counselling approaches, and some, like me, might integrate them, depending on their clients’ needs. Here are a few commonly used methods in working with children and young people. It’s useful for you to know what they are when reading counsellors’ profiles:

a. Person-Centred therapy: this approach is very common in work with children and often integrated with other styles. In person-centred therapy, the therapist takes a non-directive role, allowing the child to lead the session and determine the topics they wish to discuss. This process helps children develop self-awareness, self-acceptance, and a stronger sense of self-esteem, enabling them to navigate and cope with various emotional issues and life difficulties.

b. Play Therapy: Play therapy allows children to express their thoughts and emotions through play, toys, and creative activities. This approach provides a safe and comfortable environment for children to explore and communicate their experiences. It’s common to be used for young children as it doesn’t require them to express their feelings verbally.

c. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a common approach used by public services such as NHS and CAMHS. It focuses on identifying negative thought patterns and behaviours and replacing them with positive ones. In its pure form, it is very structured.

d. Art Therapy: Art therapy incorporates various art forms, such as drawing, painting, or sculpting, to facilitate self-expression and emotional healing. Through art, children can communicate their feelings and experiences nonverbally.

e. Narrative Therapy: Narrative therapy encourages children to construct positive narratives about themselves, emphasizing their strengths and resilience. This approach helps children develop a sense of empowerment and agency in shaping their own stories.

Counselling Online vs Face-to-Face:

When considering counselling options for your child, you may choose between online and face-to-face sessions. Each approach has its advantages and drawbacks.

Online counselling offers convenience and accessibility, especially for families with busy schedules or limited access to in-person services. It can also reduce stress for individuals with anxiety. However, my experience shows that it doesn’t work for everyone. For example, young children can get easily distracted by things in their room and disengage from the counsellor on the screen. In addition, some teens feel they can’t freely talk online as other family members might be at home and overhear the conversation.

On the other hand, face-to-face counselling provides a more direct and personal connection, allowing the counsellor to observe non-verbal cues and create a safe physical space for therapy.

No matter the medium, it is important for the client to feel comfortable and safe to open up about their worries and struggles, so in my practice, we can mix online and face-to-face sessions to accommodate your needs and lifestyle.

Where to Find a Counselor for Your Child:

Finding a qualified counsellor for your child can be overwhelming, but here are some places where you might start your search:

Pediatricians and Family Doctors: Your child's paediatrician or family doctor may have recommendations for reputable counsellors in your area. They can refer you to the local mental health professionals who specialize in working with children.

Mental Health Organizations: Local mental health organizations and clinics may have resources and referrals for child counsellors. Contact these organizations to inquire about available services.

Online Directories: Online directories that filter child counsellors can be a helpful resource. Ensure the directories you use are reputable and verify the qualifications and credentials of the counsellors listed. The websites of professional bodies mentioned above also might have their own directories.

What to do next?

Take the time to research and evaluate potential counsellors based on their qualifications, approaches, and fit with your child's needs. It might be helpful to shortlist two or three counsellors that meet your criteria, are locally based and have availability for new clients. Don’t hesitate to contact them to get a feel for them and discuss your needs before you commit to sessions. Finding the person your child will “click” with will make a positive difference in their well-being, so don’t get discouraged if it’s not the first professional you meet.

Choosing the right counsellor for your child might take some time and effort, but hopefully, now you feel better informed to begin your search.