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Types of Therapy for Children & Youth

Types of Therapy for Children and Youth include a individualized approach to care. Recognizing that each individual child is at their own developmental stage is key in providing care.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

This evidence-based model (with clients of any age) focuses on the cognitive model, or the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behavior. When the child’s thoughts, feelings, or behavior are related to distress, conflict, stress or impairment, intervention aims to make a shift in at least one of these three components. In other words, intervention may target a shift in thoughts, leading to different feelings and behavior. Alternatively, intervention may target a shift in behavior, leading to different thoughts and feelings.

Children may benefit from CBT that is experiential. When we begin by examining thoughts, particularly through discussion about the thoughts, we are focused on the abstract. Asking a child to identify a thought, consider whether the thought is as accurate or helpful, and then shift to a new thought- again very abstract. In children, those skills for thinking are still developing, growing and changing. If instead CBT begins with behaviour, the child may have a new experience that can lead to new ways of thinking and feeling and then voila! A change occurs. If it was only that easy! Often to create these shifts in thoughts, feelings and behaviours it takes many sessions with all ages, however the incorporation of creative and expressive methods can help break throughs to occur with children. Creative and expressive interventions are selected to strategically target the problem area but to the untrained eye seem like the therapist is “just playing”. Further, these creative, playful, engaging and flexible interventions are powerful as they practice new skills, gather evidence, test out negative predictions while having fun at the same time!

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

This therapy assists in providing support for two elements at once, hence the word dialectical. It combines the core principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy -learning to use thinking to change feelings -with the acceptance of feelings and thoughts which is the core of Mindfulness. It is a true combination of the “I am doing the best I can” with the “I need to do better”. This evidence-based driven model has been used by qualified practitioners to support adolescents (but not limited to) anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorders and those with extreme emotional instability. Blending the acceptance strategies of Mindfulness with the change elements of CBT is a powerful collaboration which many have had much success with.  

Mindfulness Practice- This model can help with many challenges, but it specifically can be helpful in assisting children to manage stress, anxiety and worry in a gentle way while increasing happiness. By paying attention to the present moment in an accepting, nonjudgmental manner, children learn to self-regulate and experience relief in that moment. Further mindfulness aids in developing the skills that are controlled in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, like focus and cognitive control. This can therefore have a particular impact on the development of skills including self-regulation, judgment and patience during childhood. Often incorporating mindfulness into work with children helps kids name body sensations, thoughts and emotions. Lastly, here are some examples of quick mindfulness activities with children: eat a mindful snack, count your breaths, count the number of yellow things in the room. 

Motivational Interviewing

This method uses interpersonal counseling that helps people find the internal motivation they need in order to change behaviors and choices. This approach acknowledges how difficult it is to make life changes and particularly is helpful in the adolescent stage when kids may be resistant to change. This model assists in aiding the youth to find inner motivation to start making healthier choices. The youth and the qualified practitioner have a collaborative conversation style for strengthening  the youth’s own motivation and commitment to change. Further, with particular focus on the language of change, this approach gently moves youth away from uncertainty and indecision and views the youth as the expect of their own life while focusing on goals.

Narrative Therapy

This model pulls on listening to and telling or retelling stories about people and the problems in their lives. During this therapeutic process, it is hard to believe that conversations can shape new realities. Further the idea behind this model is that these narratives (illustrations, art works, verbal or written stories) build bridges of meaning and assist children to heal , furthering their individual developments to flourish instead of wither and be forgotten. Naturally language plays an important role in aiding children in this healing narrative process and can transform into stories  (and experiences) of hope as sessions progress. Further this hope helps children organize, predict and understand the complexities of our lived experiences. Meaning of these experiences is processed and often connected to events and options the child is considering.  Moreover, young persons and their families may not have control over whether a certain problem is in their life but how they “deal with it” they do  is still within their choice. 

A large component of this model is externalization. When children externalize, their  identity remains exploratory and relatively fluid. This fluidity allows the child to explore variations of attitude, identity and behavior–to try out the emotional flavor of the moment or day. Further, examining the child dealing with or facing the problem rather than being a problem is a start in making shifts in the child’s identity.  Dynamic learning as well as creative play lend themselves well to Narrative approaches.