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What To Do When Therapy Doesn't Seem To Be Working For Your Child: Tips for Parents

What To Do When Therapy Doesn't Seem To Be Working For Your Child: Tips for Parents

As a parent, watching your child struggle with mental health challenges can be incredibly distressing. You've taken the proactive step of seeking therapy, but what happens when it doesn't seem to be making the progress you hoped for? It's essential to remember that you and your child have options. This article will help you navigate the situation and provide you with the information you need to find the best path forward.

Navigating Resistance and Progress in the Therapeutic Process

Recognizing whether therapy is effective for your child or teen involves consideration of various factors. While it's natural to expect immediate improvements, it's essential to understand that progress in therapy often occurs gradually and nonlinearly. One indicator that therapy may not be working is persistent resistance from your child or teen. However, resistance can also signify that they are grappling with challenging emotions or confronting difficult topics, which, is an essential part of the therapeutic process. Additionally, fluctuations in mood or behavior, temporary setbacks, periods of heightened distress, or even regression, may occur as part of the stages of therapy. These fluctuations can be discouraging for parents, who are often paying for treatment, and lead them to believe that therapy isn’t working, when they might be followed by breakthroughs and growth. If parents are careful, they might prematurely end treatment based on incorrect assumptions. Therefore, it's crucial for parents to maintain open communication with both their child and the therapist to gain insight into the therapeutic process and work together to determine the most effective course of action.

1. Talk with Your Child

Start by having an open and honest conversation with your child about their therapy experience. Initiating an open and sincere dialogue with your child about their therapy journey is paramount in understanding their experience and ensuring their needs are being met. Begin by delving into their feelings regarding therapy and their rapport with the therapist. Inquire about their perceptions, whether they feel comfortable and heard during sessions, and if they trust their therapist's guidance. Additionally, it's crucial to align your child's therapeutic objectives with yours by discussing their goals for therapy. Assess whether these aspirations resonate with your expectations and if adjustments are necessary to better support their progress. Moreover, consider the dynamics of their engagement with therapy—is it a voluntary and collaborative effort, or do they exhibit resistance? Recognize that resistance can be a natural response to confronting challenging emotions or topics, indicative of the therapeutic process actively addressing underlying issues. By initiating these conversations, you foster transparency, trust, and alignment between you, your child, and their therapist, facilitating a more effective therapeutic journey.

2. Talk with Your Therapist

Engaging in ongoing, open dialogue with your child's therapist is essential for gaining insights into their progress and determining the effectiveness of therapy. Although, due to confidentiality, your child’s therapist won’t be able to give you specifics about what your child is doing in therapy, they will likely offer insight into progress and discuss treatment goals. Initiate a discussion to ascertain whether the therapist shares your concerns about the therapy's efficacy. Their professional perspective can offer valuable insights into your child's response to treatment and any adjustments that may be necessary. Additionally, explore whether the therapeutic goals established at the outset of therapy remain relevant and achievable. Assessing whether these goals need to be revisited and/or revised allows for a more tailored and effective approach to addressing your child's needs. By collaborating with the therapist in this manner, you can work together to optimize the therapeutic process and ensure that your child receives the support and guidance necessary for their well-being. 

This collaboration also helps you to be able to support your child at home, by understanding the therapist's perspective and incorporating their recommendations into daily interactions and routines. This approach fosters consistency between therapy sessions and home life, reinforcing therapeutic progress and promoting a supportive environment for your child's emotional growth and development. By actively participating in discussions with the therapist, you become an integral part of your child's therapeutic journey, equipped with the knowledge and strategies to facilitate their ongoing healing and well-being.

3. Select a Different Therapist

If it's evident that the current therapist isn't the right fit for your child or their needs, you may want to explore selecting a different therapist. Assessing the therapist's compatibility with your child, yourself, and your family dynamics is paramount in ensuring effective therapy. Consider whether the therapist's approach resonates with your child's personality and communication style. Additionally, reflect on your own comfort level and rapport with the therapist, as your involvement in the therapeutic process is integral to its success. Evaluating how the therapist interacts with your family and addresses your concerns can provide insight into their suitability for your child's care. Remember, finding the right therapist is a collaborative process that requires careful consideration and prioritization of your child's well-being. By making informed decisions regarding therapy providers, you empower your child to receive the personalized support they need to thrive.

When considering the option of selecting a different therapist, it's essential to acknowledge that your child may require a different approach or expertise than what the current therapist offers, and that's perfectly okay. Each therapist brings a unique set of skills, experiences, and specialties to their practice. Your child's needs may evolve over time, or they may require specific interventions that align with their unique circumstances. For instance, if your child is struggling with trauma, they may benefit from a therapist who specializes in trauma-informed care. Similarly, if your child has neurodevelopmental differences such as autism spectrum disorder, seeking out a therapist with expertise in this area could be beneficial. By recognizing the importance of finding the right fit in terms of expertise and approach, you ensure that your child receives the most effective and appropriate care tailored to their individual needs. Don't hesitate to explore different therapeutic options until you find the best match for your child's well-being and growth.

4. Select a Different Type of Therapy

When considering selecting a different type of therapy for your child, it's important to explore alternative therapeutic modalities that may better suit their individual needs and preferences. Options such as music therapy, play therapy, art therapy, sand tray therapy and even occupational therapy (OT), offer diverse approaches to addressing challenges and promoting emotional and mental well-being. These modalities often incorporate creative and experiential techniques that can be particularly effective for children and adolescents who may struggle with traditional talk therapy. 

Additionally, it's essential to evaluate whether your child is receiving the best services for their specific needs. Reflect on whether their current therapy approach is addressing their concerns and whether alternative modalities could offer additional benefits. 

If there are ongoing concerns about your child's mental health or if there has been a lack of progress in therapy, it may be time to consider a formal psychological evaluation or psychiatric evaluation. This assessment can provide valuable insights into your child's emotional and behavioral functioning and guide recommendations for appropriate treatment interventions. This can help you make informed decisions about the best course of action for your child's mental health and well-being.

5. Changing How Your Child Is Receiving Services

If your child is currently receiving virtual services, switching to in-person therapy may provide a more effective experience. Or if your child is receiving in-person services you may want to consider virtual therapy.

Although in-person and virtual therapy can be delivered most of the time with the same quality, they do offer distinct advantages and challenges.  While virtual therapy has become more common and accessible, it may not always provide the same level of connection and engagement as in-person sessions. Face-to-face interactions with a therapist allow for better non-verbal communication and a more immersive therapeutic environment, which can enhance the effectiveness of the treatment. In-person therapy also provides some children with better opportunities for them to build a stronger rapport with their therapist and feel more supported in their healing journey, particularly if they would benefit from a non-directive play therapy approach. Additionally, being physically present in a therapeutic setting may create a sense of safety and comfort for your child, facilitating deeper exploration of emotions and experiences. If your child has been struggling to engage or make progress in virtual therapy, transitioning to in-person sessions could potentially lead to a more meaningful and impactful therapeutic experience. However, virtual therapy offers many benefits.  You can learn more here.

You might also consider group therapy or family therapy. These therapies can be used as an alternative or complementary approach for your child's therapeutic journey. These therapies may be provided either virtually or in-person.   

Group therapy offers unique benefits, such as the opportunity for your child to connect with peers facing similar challenges, fostering a sense of belonging and understanding. Engaging in group discussions and activities can provide valuable insights and perspectives, promoting empathy and social skills development. Additionally, group therapy offers a supportive environment where your child can practice communication, assertiveness, and conflict resolution skills under the guidance of a trained therapist. Participating in a group setting can also reduce feelings of isolation and stigma, empowering your child to share their experiences and learn from others in a safe and validating space. If your child is struggling to make progress or connect with individual therapy, group therapy may offer a refreshing and effective alternative to support their emotional growth and well-being. 

Family therapy can be highly beneficial for addressing relational dynamics and fostering positive communication within the family unit. Family therapy provides a collaborative approach that involves all members of the family in the therapeutic process. It offers a safe space for open and honest communication, allowing family members to explore underlying issues, resolve conflicts, and strengthen relationships. Family therapy can help identify and address patterns of interaction that may contribute to your child's challenges, providing support and guidance for the entire family to work together towards solutions. Additionally, involving the family in therapy can enhance understanding and empathy among family members, leading to improved support systems and a more cohesive family unit. By considering family therapy as part of your child's treatment plan, you can create a supportive and nurturing environment that promotes their overall well-being and resilience.

6. Get Support for Yourself (and your child)

Remember that supporting your child's mental health also means taking care of your own well-being. When it comes to supporting your child's mental health, it's essential to prioritize your own well-being as well. Remember that you can't pour from an empty cup, and taking care of yourself allows you to better support your child. 

As part of this care, consider expanding your support network by adding more team members who can provide assistance and guidance tailored to your child or family's needs. This may include parent counseling and/or

  • Therapeutic childcare and respite services offer temporary relief and support for parents, allowing them to recharge and attend to their own self-care needs. 
  • Parent coaching provides valuable guidance and strategies for navigating challenging situations and fostering positive parenting practices. Similarly, parent counseling offers a safe space for parents to explore their own emotions, concerns, and challenges related to their child's mental health. 
  • Post-adoption services can provide specialized support for families who have adopted children, addressing unique challenges and needs that may arise. 

This may also include a higher level of care for your child, such as:

  • Intensive in-home services and outpatient treatment programs provide comprehensive support and therapy for your child within the comfort of your own home, promoting family involvement and consistency in treatment. 
  • Residential treatment offers intensive support and therapy in a structured environment for children who require round-the-clock care and intervention. 
  • Therapeutic private education provides tailored academic and therapeutic support for children who may struggle in traditional school settings. 
  • Therapeutic camps offer a unique opportunity for your child to engage in therapeutic activities, build social skills, and connect with peers in a supportive and enriching environment. 
  • Virtual schooling may be an option worth considering for children who thrive in a flexible and supportive learning environment. 

Therapeutic educational consultants and placement consultants offer expertise in finding educational settings that best suit your child's needs, whether it's mainstream schooling with additional support or specialized therapeutic environments. 

By exploring these various support options, you can create a robust and comprehensive support network that promotes the well-being of both you and your child.

7. Ask Others for Feedback

Asking for feedback from other individuals involved in your child's life can provide valuable insights into their well-being and progress. Co-parents, such as your partner or ex-partner, may offer a different perspective and observations that complement your own. Coaches, teachers, and other caregivers who interact with your child regularly may also notice patterns or behaviors that you may not have observed. Engaging in open and collaborative discussions with these individuals allows you to gain a more comprehensive understanding of your child's challenges and strengths. Additionally, it helps validate your observations and concerns, confirming whether others are noticing the same patterns or behaviors in your child. This collective input can inform decision-making regarding your child's care and treatment, ensuring that everyone involved is aligned in supporting your child's well-being. By fostering open communication and collaboration with these key individuals, you create a supportive network that promotes your child's growth and development.

8. Taking a Break from Therapy

And finally, something else to consider may be taking break from therapy.  Some families break for the summer, or they space out sessions to monthly or every other month.  

Taking a break from therapy can offer an opportunity to step back, reflect, and gain perspective on the therapeutic process and allow for a reset. Sometimes, therapy can become overwhelming or exhausting for your child, and a break can provide much-needed relief from the emotional intensity. Additionally, taking a pause from therapy allows your child to apply the skills and strategies they've learned in therapy to real-life situations, providing a chance to see how they fare independently. It can also be a time for your child to explore other interests or activities that bring them joy and fulfillment, promoting overall well-being. 

Similarly, as a parent, a break from therapy can give you a chance to recharge and focus on your own self-care needs. It allows you to step back from the role of being the primary support person and regain perspective on your child's progress and needs. 

However, it's essential to communicate openly with your child's therapist. Be sure and consult with them about your ideas for taking a break and to discuss a plan for resuming therapy when the time is right. By taking a break from therapy mindfully and with guidance and support from your child's therapist, you can ensure that it is an appropriate therapeutic choice for your child based on their needs and it aligns with the therapist’s professional opinion. 


When therapy doesn't seem to be working for your child or teen, it's essential to explore your options and advocate for their well-being. By engaging in open communication, seeking input from professionals and support networks, and considering alternative treatment approaches, you can find the path that best supports your child's mental health journey. Remember, you're not alone, and there are resources and services available to help guide you through this process.

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