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Child psychotherapy

Child psychotherapy helps children and young people to make sense of sad, angry, painful or confusing feelings and thoughts. 

It usually has a beneficial effect on relationships at home and on behaviour, as children become less preoccupied or better able to concentrate. Most children can then make better use of opportunities at school. 

Child psychotherapists are trained to help children understand feelings that are not possible to speak out loud. They do this through play, drawing and talking about events and experiences. 

Who it’s for

Child psychotherapists work with individual children. They may meet with families who have worries about their babies or very young children. Parent support sessions are offered alongside a child’s therapy. If a child is in care, support work takes place with foster carers and social workers. 

Issues we can help with

Child psychotherapy is offered when psychological or emotional difficulties have been going on for some time, or are quite severe. It is also an option when everybody is confused about the problem and nobody fully understands the child’s difficulty. 

Psychotherapy can help with a range of issues including:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • behaviour difficulties
  • bullying
  • hyperactivity
  • low self esteem
  • self harm
  • post traumatic symptoms

Children may be reacting to life events which everyone knows about or it may be that difficulties have started without any obvious cause. 

Child psychotherapists can help children to deal with learning and physical disabilities. They can help children on the autistic spectrum.


Assessment starts with a series of short appointments. This helps to get a picture of the issues and to make a treatment plan, if this is needed.

Decisions about what to do after assessment are reached by talking with parents and the child or young person. It is important that everyone understands the reasons for a treatment plan and agree with it. 

Length of treatment

Child psychotherapy can last from a few sessions to two years.

Sometimes a few sessions can resolve things. Sometimes it takes longer and a child psychotherapist might suggest they need to work with a child over a year or more. Some children have difficulties that benefit from more intensive treatment, three times per week. 

Therapy sessions

Individual therapy sessions with a child last for 50 minutes. Family meetings are 1 to 1.5 hours. 

Children are usually seen on their own in sessions. Older children are usually able to talk about their difficulties, whilst younger children can play or draw in sessions. 

Sometimes children find it hard to communicate through words or play. Our child psychotherapists watch how they react to the session and the way the child relates to them to understand what their behaviour means.

Child psychotherapists try to see children at the same time and in the same room every week. A predictable routine supports the work. 


Psychotherapy sometimes makes a difference very quickly, even with the most troubling symptoms. However, the treatment is not just about getting rid of unwanted symptoms. It aims to help the individual make better use of future opportunities and relationships. 

In very young children, the aim is to assist them onto a healthy developmental path. 

Research shows that psychotherapy is particularly effective in the treatment of depression, anxiety or behaviour disorders, and developmental disorders. There is evidence of good outcomes for sexually abused girls and children who have experienced deprivation and neglect. 

Improvements have been found to be sustained or increased in the long term. 

Risks and side effects

In any psychological treatment there is a risk of feeling worse before you feel better. Behaviour can become worse in the short term, before it improves. 

This can happen for a number of reasons. Children sometimes find their sessions stir up unwelcome feelings, thoughts and memories. This can make them dismissive, critical of their therapist or even not want to attend therapy sessions. 

Children often work hard during treatment and this can take a lot of emotional energy. Most children, including those who are negative about therapy, become attached to the work and find holiday breaks or cancelled sessions difficult. 


Child psychotherapy is not for everyone. There is a range of alternative treatments that your therapist will talk to you about during assessment. 

Long term psychotherapy is offered when the assessment suggests it’s the most helpful treatment for the child’s particular difficulties. There is plenty of opportunity to review the treatment plan and make sure it’s still suitable. 

In some cases children are helped by medication which can be prescribed by a doctor and on rare occasions by our staff. 

Patients may choose not to take up any form of professional help for their issue and manage the problem themself. 

Questions or worries

Child psychotherapists seeing young children meet with parents for feedback sessions once each school term. 

If your child is seeing a child psychotherapist, another clinician meets you on a regular basis for parent support sessions every week, fortnight or month. This is the person to contact if you have worries about the treatment plan. 

You can speak directly to your child’s therapist at any point if you really need to.

If you would like to discuss any concerns with someone independent of your therapy please contact our patient advice and liaison service.