Whether you're a parent, teacher, or counselor yourself, you may ask yourself: When IS the right time to seek professional counseling for my child or student? Often, we think there must be a huge crisis to warrant professional therapy. However, counseling is more beneficial if used as a proactive rather than reactive measure.

Here are a few helpful tips to identify if the time is right for counseling:

  • Transitions 
    Relocation of a child�s residence or even a transition from elementary to middle school can be stressful transitions.
  • Puberty 
    It can be an awkward stage for most and often parents and other adults have difficulty addressing the physical, mental, and emotional changes that are occurring during this time.
  • Sibling Addition to the Family
    A new brother or sister can upset the family dynamic in subtle ways. A child who will soon have a new sibling can have a hard time adjusting.
  • Slow or Sudden Emotional Withdrawal
    If you notice a shift in mood, particularly if your child is isolating or not sharing like he/she normally would, this is an ideal time to have them speak to a counselor.
  • Acting Out 
    When a child starts to act out, time spent working with a counselor to learn healthier communication skills, improved parenting skills and limits/boundaries can make a world of difference.
  • Fears/Phobias 
    Counseling can help when a child refuses to go to school,  shows signs of codependency or anxiety in social situations.
  • Parents Divorcing 
    Individual therapy provides a safe space for the child to explore how a divorce or separation is impacting him/her. Family therapy is also a good idea at this point to help parents work on continued parenting skills.

Some of the above items may seem like natural life-changes that a child is progressing through without issue. For others, these may be areas where a child is struggling or showing signs of trouble that threaten to interrupt development or lessen quality of life.  We understand that the threshold for when a child would benefit from a professional therapist's help may be different for each family, and there can be a lot of grey area. So, here are the times when counseling is DEFINITELY warranted:

  • Any issues with sexual, verbal, or physical abuse (victim or perpetrator).
  • Explosive behavior or severe defiance that causes the family unit increased stress and instability.
  • Phobias that are severe enough to impact day to day functioning.
  • Self-injury.
  • Suicidal or homicidal thoughts or feelings.
  • Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) are not being maintained or completed (bathing, brushing teeth, etc.)
  • Eating Problems such as preoccupation with food, refusing to eat, binge eating, self-esteem or body image issues.

As always, contact DCFS Abuse Hotline at 800-25-ABUSE if you feel there is abuse or suicidal/homicidal ideation with a plan. If you�re unsure, speak to family, friends, teachers, school counselors, or any adults that are working with your child. It is important to communicate concerns rather than brush them off. Unsure who to talk to? Contact our counselors at Meghan L. Reitz & Associates, LLC to assess your situation and make recommendations for proceeding forward with counseling.

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Meghan Reitz

Meghan Reitz, LCPC, NCC, has worked within the counseling profession for over 19 years. Her therapist experience includes providing individual, couples, family, group, and crisis counseling. She also speaks with companies and groups on mental health and wellness topics. Learn more about Meghan here.