Develop Important Skills on the Way to Being a Children’s Therapist
If you find yourself daydreaming about becoming a licensed therapist specializing in children and childhood issues, it is important to keep an open mind regarding the dynamics of the field. Practicing an attitude of “teachability” which surpasses the norm will enable you to acquire and assimilate valuable knowledge and wisdom from every day experiences and other academic pursuits you encounter along the way to your degrees and licensure.
1. Develop Reversible Thinking
Our Profiled Experts in the field agree that no child is an island. Without fail, the issues of the nuclear family are vested upon the children to some degree. As a child therapist or counselor, you will need to develop the skill of thinking in an intellectually reversible manner--you will need to assess the child from the outside-in as well as from inside-out. In other words, you will need to be able to look at the child from the perspective of the family (outside-in) as well as how the family appears from the child’s perceptions (inside-out). Practicing this way of assessing the issues at hand may even lead you to change your professional focus. You may decide that you can best help children by working with the surrounding families. One of our profiled experts, Dr. Jeanette Raymond, is a living example of how reversible thinking changed her practice.
Jeanette Raymond is a licensed psychologist in the state of California who earned a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California Graduate Institute as well as a Master’s Degree in Child and Adolescent Psychology from the University of Wales, Great Britain. She also completed a 4 year M.Ed. in Educational/Child Psychology which involved teaching all ages and learning about family dysfunction. With regards to the importance of looking at the family dynamics when working with children, Dr. Raymond shares;
As a Child Psychologist I got really interested in the ways children could be the signal of family problems – from children who were bedwetting to girls who were anorexic. I came to realize that no matter how much I helped the kids, it was the parents that really needed the help so that their children weren’t suffering the consequences. When I came to California I switched to working with adults and adult families, where I help parents not put on their kids what they had put on them.
2. Develop Creativity
Undoubtedly the children you encounter will be of different ages and have achieved various levels of cognitive development. In order to effectively communicate with your young clients, it will be necessary to have your creative skills and abilities honed and immediately available. While basic play and toys may be effective with younger children, you may need to have invested the time and effort in learning other creative ways of eliciting responses from your clientele. Dr. Raymond shares her experience;
I learned how to use visual imaging, hypnosis, art and play therapy to help children relieve themselves of having to be the scapegoat for their family troubles. I discovered that I was interested in the psychodynamic approach to treating people with relationship and other mental health problems, and that meant another leap into a deeper learning experience.
Although you will need to receive professional instruction in this area, it is not too early to participate in creative childhood activities and learn what it means to be a child in this generation.
3. Develop an Approachable Presence
According to The United States Department of Labor, those who work with children in a therapeutic environment are most successful when they are compassionate, have well-developed interpersonal skills, are good listeners and have superior speaking skills. Along these lines, the following characteristics are important areas to develop:
- Gentleness: Children in therapy have often been abused or traumatized. Child therapists need to feel comfortable speaking in muted tones and using words which are soothing. Their approach needs to be calm, consistent and free of erratic gestures and expressions.
- Ability to Communicate Empathetically: The therapist needs to be able to put themselves in the shoes of the child in order to effectively explore childhood feelings. Staying current on popular toys, games, television characters and shows, creates a common ground from which conversation can be initiated and developed.
- Personal Childhood Issues Have Been Resolved: On commercial airlines, parents are instructed to first put on their own oxygen mask before tending to their children in the event of an emergency. The same principle is vitally important in the case of being an effective child therapist.
Dr. Tracy Thomas is a licensed therapist with a successful private practice in San Francisco, California. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Sonoma State University as well as a Master’s Degree in Organizational Development. Her doctorate in Psychology was conferred by Walden University. When asked what she would say to future therapists she contributed the following;
I would say to them, truly, do not become a therapist unless you are actually someone who is already a therapist and you just need to get the title. If you are not at your core essence a healer, then you are probably just in it to heal yourself. You will do that to some degree, but it’s an incredible responsibility to work with people who are coming to you to help them heal. If you haven’t done your own healing work on the front-end and do not have a deep sense of self, as well as know exactly how to take care of yourself on every level, then you are underestimating the awesome responsibility that comes with helping other people take care of themselves. Before helping others you have to have expertise that has come from you having learned first how to love yourself, take care of yourself and to get rid of your ego. You have to heal yourself first.
It is interesting to note that some of the most important skills to learn before becoming a children’s therapist are not academically-based. In other words, much of what will make you successful therapist with children are things you can begin to work on today, before you are licensed.
To summarize, develop the ability to think beyond your own mind; learn how to think from the standpoint of the child as well as how the family is affecting the child. Develop the ability to relate with children on their own level by familiarizing yourself and staying current with the particular aspects of the world they encounter. Choose to create a warm and inviting environment from which you offer a calm and collected presence; a presence which has been freed from personal childhood issues and therefore feels safe and encouraging. Finally, be the person you would like to spend time with--if you were once again a child.
Interestingly, while the academics involved in becoming a child therapist can be challenging and complicated; the finishing touches are really quite simple and within reach. Begin today to develop the skills which will make you a well-rounded and valuable therapist; one who has taken the time to strive for greatness and excellence.