This is Where You Start When You Think You May Need a Child Therapist

Realizing that you need help for your child can often feel very overwhelming.

When I learned that my daughter needed to see a mental health professional, I didn’t even know where to start. It’s not something people talk about much in social circles (though I hope that stigma changes) so it’s hard to get recommendations. We eventually got her help, though, and she’s much healthier mentally now.

Mental Health Issues can Crop up at Any Age

I was shocked when my daughter became an emotional disaster in kindergarten. She had loved her young fives class the year before and had been a happy, enjoyable child. But as soon as “being in school all day, every day” hit, she lost it. 

The first four weeks of school she sobbed uncontrollably 24 hours a day, desperate to go home and never return to school again. Her teacher was fantastic, and everyone worked hard to help her, but we were clearly out of our league. What was going ON??

Her Alger Pediatrics doc recommended a local psychotherapist and at our first visit, the lightbulbs went off. My child has anxiety. She has never had to hold it all in for a long school day before. She loves the safety of her home and felt overwhelmed when she had to leave for long periods. She is used to mom and dad’s presence being her safety net

It took a year of therapy before we started seeing significant progress, but it was worth every minute, and every penny. She’s still in therapy, and probably will be for the rest of her life. It’s simply what she needs to do to be healthy. 

I’m so grateful that there is help in West Michigan for kids and adults like her. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as caring for your physical health! 


Need a Child Therapist? Here’s Where to Start

Now that you’ve done your own informal evaluation of your child and want professional help, where do you even start to find counseling? 

You start with insurance. Health insurance can cover a broken bone or a flu shot, but when it comes to mental health care, things are less clear. Before you take your kid to a bunch of appointments, find out how much your insurance will help. Or if you don’t have insurance, see what other resources are available.

Counseling Options if you Have Health Insurance

If you have health insurance, call your provider. They can give you specific information about how much coverage you have and which providers participate with your plan. From there, you can approach some of the specific resources listed later in this article.

Counseling Resources If you do Not Have Health Insurance

Even if you do not have insurance, you still have options. 

  • In Kent County, Network 180 is the best place to start (800-649-3777).
  • In Ottawa County contact Community Mental Health (866-512-4357).
  • Another valuable community resource is 2-1-1. You can call 2-1-1 from any landline phone and a trained staff member will help get you in touch with the appropriate health or human service organization you need. (If you are calling from a cell phone, the Kent County number is 1-800-887-1107 and the Ottawa County number is 877-211-LAKE.) Anytime I have called, the staff have been very helpful and well informed. There is no cost for this service and it is available 24-7. You can also check out Kent County 211 online here or Ottawa County 211 online here.
  • You can find more options at Free Clinics of Michigan, where you can search by location.

Does it Matter Who Provides my Child Counseling?

You obviously want to find a counselor who specializes in working with kids. If your child has a specific diagnosis such as autism, ADHD, ODD or anxiety you will want to make sure the counselor is experienced in that area. 

Most parents prefer to meet with the counselor first, just to make sure it will be a good fit for their child. Please remember: just because the first counselor isn’t a good fit doesn’t mean you won’t find one. Sometimes it takes a little trial and error – and, while potentially frustrating, that’s ok!

Some options in the West Michigan area include:

Some more specific options include:

Counselors who Have Been Vetted by Local Parents

These top mental health professionals in Grand Rapids were voted on by our readers. These are the pros that parents trust and kids love.

(If you’re new to Grand Rapids or find yourself needing any kind of new medical professional, check out our comprehensive guide to the Top Dentists, Pediatricians, ETC for Kids in Grand Rapids. See the number-one-voted doc for several categories, and lists of excellent runners-up.)

Voted Top Mental Health Professional for Families

Dr. Michael Wolff at BRAINS

1 – Wolff, Dr. Michael (BRAINS)
2 – Kingma, Nancy (Psychology Associates of GR)
3 – Matlosz, Dr. Erin (BRAINS)
4 – (TIE) Fritch, Faene (Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services)
(TIE) Tobin, Ashleigh (Mindful Counseling GR)
6 – Padron, Katie (The Collaborative Center GR)
7 – Caldas, Rafael (Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services)
(TIE) Nixon, Bryan (Mindful Counseling GR)
(TIE) Ruch, Dr. Michael
10 – (TIE) Kool, Rachael (Rachael Kool Counseling LLC)
(TIE) Langley, Melissa (Third Coast Counseling)
(TIE) Stearns, Dr. Jeffrey (Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services) 

Rachael Kool at Kool Counseling

Creating confidence in those navigating situations that create fear and unknown is one of my biggest motivations. I try to help people find ways to control their emotions and thoughts instead of trying to control what’s going on outside of themselves unsuccessfully. I know how difficult it can be to sit and talk with someone unfamiliar so I create comfort in the room with different hands on activities, exercises, games, or expressive arts. Change can be hard so using compassion towards ourselves in the journey only helps us achieve success.

2335 Burton St.SE STE 130 | Grand Rapids, MI
WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | 616-929-0189


What to say to your Kid Who Needs a Child Therapist

If you view this as a positive experience, your child will, too. 

I framed my daughter’s therapist appointments as a fun opportunity to figure out how her brain works and how to feel more calm at school and in certain situations. I told her that her doctor had tricks for helping her brain to not worry as often. 

We were excited to meet someone who was going to help us! And to this day, she looks forward to her counseling sessions. (Partly because her doctor gives her tootsie pops after each meeting, but also partly because she enjoys the peace these visits bring.)

It’s normal to have some reservations about seeking counseling for your child, but if you can see the bright side, they will, too. 

If you have a child with a lot of anxiety, give them some choices about seeing the counselor. (Do you want to write down some questions for the counselor ahead of time? Do you want me or Dad to go with you? Is there something you would like to take with you to help you feel more comfortable?)

Whatever angle you think is going to work best with your child, use it. When more people use these services to help their children, the stigma occasionally associated with them will melt away. 

Remember — happy children (help) make for happy adults. Why not give them the tools to help them for the rest of their lives? Care for your family’s mental health. Your future will thank you for it.

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