The #1 Reason Things Get Worse Before They Get Better in Therapy for Kids 


You’ve probably heard before that things get worse before they get better when you start therapy. For adults, the reason is because you start to open your eyes to things you might not have been aware of in your life and in your past.

For kids, it’s actually really different. Here’s why:

Initially kids might be excited to have time that’s completely focused on them. They get to play, or do art, and they build a connection with the therapist. Or, if your kid is a little more cautious, they might be a little quiet at first and then warm up over the first few sessions. So things start out good and all seems well until the newness starts to wear off and things go a little deeper.  

Inevitably, the *exact* reason you brought them to therapy is going to show up in the therapy room.

Your child will act it out in their relationship with the therapist. They will not want to talk about something hard, they will lie, they will want to leave, they will have the same complaint about the therapist that they have about their teacher.  The same behavior of bouncing off the walls at school will show up in the therapy room.

This is called “reenactment” and this is a good thing.

Why? Because it lets the therapist work with the exact issue that is bringing your child to therapy LIVE. As therapists, we want this because it’s much more effective to work with a live issue than to try to communicate with your child about some abstract (not present here and now) issue that they don’t want to talk about.

The struggle is: they will tell you they don’t want to go to therapy or they don’t like the therapist.  As a parent your instinct is to take care of your child and making them do something they don’t want to do can feel wrong. But you got to this point of attending therapy out of love and concern for them, so don’t make yourself feel bad about encouraging therapy.  

What do you do if your child doesn’t want to keep going to therapy?

If your child comes to you complaining about therapy or their therapist and doesn’t want to go, this is when you need to have a parent session.  Of course, your kid will be very convincing and you will want to listen to and protect them but you may not want to immediately pull them out of therapy without digging a little deeper.  

A parent session can help you assess what is really going on and if there is a legitimate reason to discontinue and/or find a new therapist, or if they just don’t want to experience the uncomfortable feelings of working through their issues.

You have already invested a few hundred dollars in therapy, plus driving time, plus all it took you to find the therapist and set up the relationship in the first place.

If you really don’t think it’s a good match between the therapist and your child, that’s OK! But don’t waste your investment by not finding out the therapist’s perspective on what’s going on. This is literally what you paid to get.

If the issue that’s come up in therapy is a re-enactment, I would strongly consider keeping your kid in therapy to see it through. Ask the therapist what he/she recommends, collaborate to see how the re-enactment can be a way to resolve the exact symptom or pattern that you came to therapy to resolve.

Ask the therapist about how to get your kid to keep coming to sessions when they don’t want to.  Also, check out this article here about kids being resistant to therapy.

Even if it makes sense to end therapy, you will at least have this information about the behavior and it will be super helpful when you work with another therapist.

Why your child resists change

The problematic behavior was created for a good reason and it’s hard to let go of it. It may not be a positive coping skill but it is a coping skill that they have come to rely on.  Nobody likes change, even if the behavior is causing all kinds of issues. Most people will try to maintain homeostasis. Known and familiar is better than new and unfamiliar to the brain.

So, of course, they’re going to resist change. You might also feel like it’s hard to create change even though you want relief from the problem. Change is hard for lots of reasons and we talk about several of them here.  

But it’s important to put in the work now when you are already in the therapeutic relationship and have support. You’re here, now it’s time to do the work. You can do it, so can your child. But it will require going through some discomfort.

Hang in there. Partner with your therapist and move forward together.

If you need help navigating therapy with kids or you are looking for a therapist for your kid, contact us, we can help.



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