Where to Start When You Think You May Need a Child Therapist
We all know where to go when our kid has a physical ailment, right? There’s a great doctor in Grand Rapids for every physical need.
But what do you do when the problem is mental? There are so many types of mental health issues and therapists, counselors and psychiatrists – how do you know where to start?
We had the same questions ourselves so we polled parents in West Michigan to find the best child therapists and counselors in town.
We’re sharing who GR’s nine favorite child counselors are, as well as shedding light on how counseling works.
Dr. Jennifer Maurer
at Pediatric Mindworks Center at HRA Psychological Services
3940 Peninsular Dr SE suite 230, Grand Rapids, MI 49546
Dr. Maurer is a licensed psychologist/pediatric neuropsychologist and co-founder of the Pediatric Mindworks Center at HRA.
Her clinical expertise includes neuropsychological assessment of school-age children/adolescents presenting with a wide variety of neurological, neurodevelopmental, and neuropsychiatric conditions.
2 – Jay Miller LLP at ClearWater Counseling & Wellness
1525 E Beltline Ave NE #204, Grand Rapids, MI 49525
ClearWater Counseling & Wellness is dedicated to offering a full spectrum of services, providing comprehensive and confidential behavioral health services with day, evening, and weekend appointments.
Jay Miller LLP has extensive experience working with an adolescent population and enjoys serving this population, but is a general practitioner seeing clients ages eight through adult.
He works with people who struggle with an array of challenges including, but not limited to anxiety, depression, behavioral issues, anger, trauma, spiritual issues, and family problems.
3 – Kelly Griffin, MA, LLP at Pediatric Counseling of West Michigan
2090 Celebration Dr NE #212, Grand Rapids, MI 49525
Kelly is a practical, interactive, solution-focused therapist at Pediatric Counseling of West Michigan. Her wheelhouse is to provide support and practical feedback to help clients resolve current problems.
Kelly assesses each person’s needs and tailors therapy to meet the client’s individual goals – through either conventional or alternative approaches.
(All of my kids have personally seen “Miss Kelly” for years and the improvements they’ve made are astounding.)
Bonus: Kelly has two trained therapy dogs who often come to work with her.
How Does Child Counseling Work?
Child counseling works differently than other health consults. You don’t get weighed at appointments or get shots. You don’t just go once a year for a well check appointment.
So how does it work? Here are answers to some common questions about child counseling.
At What Age can a Kid See a Counselor?
Mental Health Issues Crop up at Any Age – And They Can see a Counselor at Any Time
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 pediatrician recommended a local child therapist 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.
She’s been in therapy ever since, and it’s been worth every minute, and every penny. Sometimes she sees her therapist every few weeks. Other times she can go a few months. She probably will see a therapist for the rest of her life. It’s simply what she needs to do to be healthy.
How Frequent are Appointments?
Therapy appointment frequency varies. When a child first meets with their therapist, they often are coming in once a week or once every two weeks while the therapist assesses the child and starts building a plan.
Some children will need weekly or bi-weekly appointments, while others may do well with monthly visits. My daughter’s therapist has her on an “as-needed” schedule, so now we reach out when she needs a check-in. This is about once every 3 months for us.
Some children may need biweekly appointments their whole life. It just depends on their personal situation and goals.
Do I Attend the Sessions With my Child?
Child therapists all have different systems, but in our experience, the child sees the counselor privately during most of their one-hour appointment time.
Parents can meet with the therapist privately before the meeting to discuss anything important, and often the counselor will bring in the parent at the end of the child’s session to go over things they talked about and possible plans.
Sometimes this is with the child present, and other times, you talk to the counselor alone.
It may feel weird to leave your young kid alone with a therapist, but it really gives the child a chance to be honest with their counselor without fear of mom or dad overreacting or getting upset.
How do I Choose a Child Therapist?
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 child counselor first, just to make sure it will be a good fit for their kid. Please remember you might not find the best fit with the first counselor.
Sometimes it takes a little trial and error – and, while potentially frustrating, that’s ok!
Our daughter found her perfect match with her second child therapist. Kelly Griffin MA LLP is a literal wizard and has helped all three of my kids grow into their best selves.
Mental Health & Insurance
Sadly, insurance coverage for mental health is murky at best. But when you’ve decided you need professional help, you still need to start here to determine your coverage.
If you don’t have insurance, see what other resources are available.
Some companies around Grand Rapids have mental health options for their employees and families. My husband’s job, for example, offers employees and dependents six free sessions with specific therapists covered under their insurance plan.
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 in this article.
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.
- Find more options at Free Clinics of Michigan, where you can search by location.
Normalize Talking to Your Kid About Their Mental Health
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 therapist 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 counselor has therapy dogs, 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 self will thank you for it.
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