My practice focuses on assessment and evaluation of children who may have learning disabilities, ADHD or other conditions that may affect their progress in school, and their behavioral, social and emotional adjustment. However, I do still see some therapy patients on a somewhat limited basis.
In nearly 40 years of working with families I have formed a pretty good idea of what I am good at. Like most professionals, I have developed specialties, areas in which I have more training and expertise than the average psychologist, while there are other areas in which my experience is limited or nonexistent. Most of the children and families that I see in therapy are dealing with behavior problems in young children, ADHD, the consequences of learning problems, or stress and anxiety. I also often see adolescents who are stressed about making decisions for the future, and the transition into adulthood.
I also often find it helpful to speak straight out about what I do not do, the areas in which I lack experience or special training. I do not see children dealing with issues of severe trauma or abuse, or who are experiencing severe psychiatric symptoms, such as psychosis or bipolar disorder. I do not work as a mediator between divorced parents who experience high levels of ongoing hostility toward each other, and I do not do “custody evaluations”. While I sometimes work with children who are on the autistic spectrum, I do not make the diagnosis of autism myself. All of those areas require specialized expertise that is different from my own. If your child is experiencing similar issues, you should seek someone who works primarily with those problems.
Bringing your child or teenager to see a psychologist generally turns out to be a much different experience than many people expect. It is rare, and even then only with older adolescents, that I will work exclusively with a child. The reason is simple: Children do not live alone, but with families. Talking to a child in isolation ignores their most important resource for learning and support – their parents (and in this term I include grandparents, guardians, or anyone else who may be responsible for raising a child). Therefore, parents are virtually always an important part of a child’s therapy.
There is little scientific evidence that traditional methods such as play therapy, that focus only on the child, are effective in addressing most of the problems that might bring someone to see me. Nonetheless, once children reach school age, there are often things they can learn in therapy that can play an important part in our work together. I often spend part of a therapy session alone with a child, part with parents, and part of the session with child and parents together. The older the child, the bigger role they may play in therapy.
The reality is that, except with older teenagers, I usually spend as much, or even more, time with parents than with children. I cannot “fix” your child. I can help you learn a way to do things differently outside the therapy session, in your real world, in the ongoing, years-long process of raising your child. In the end, you will make a much bigger difference in their life than I ever could.
Most parents are working hard to be the best mom or dad that they can be, while most children are actually trying very hard to be “good”. Because every child (and every parent) is different, sometimes doing what comes naturally, or what makes the most sense to you, or what your own parents did just doesn’t fit your child’s temperament, personality, or level of development.
I work with parents to learn new ways of influencing their child’s behavior, giving their child age-appropriate expectations and responsibilities, and promoting the positive behaviors that make a family a pleasant place to live. I can also help you learn what to do in the face of tantrums or refusal to follow directions. At times you may feel that I am telling you to do things that you have tried before, without success. My job is to help you adapt them to fit your particular child, and your particular family situation.
Does your child just seem different somehow, not like you expected them to be? Do they have more intense reactions to life, or seem unable to handle routine, ordinary disappointments? Are they inflexible and insistent on doing things their way? Sometimes these problems, especially in young children, are simply the result of temperament, behavioral tendencies that are within the “normal” range, but which are difficult to deal with, hard to understand and cause parents to worry about the future. I can help you learn more about how your child’s temperament affects their behavior and development, and how you can adapt your parenting style to their individual needs.
Is your child anxious, shy, or have what seem like unreasonable fears? Are they hesitant to enter new situations or try new things? Do they have trouble getting to sleep or sleeping through the night? Sometimes even typical childhood anxieties and fears can escalate to near panic, or even an angry meltdown. It is hard for a parent to know how to handle these situations – you want to be supportive, but at the same time you want to get your child through the situation and get on with the business of the day. I can work with you to find new ways of responding to your child’s moods, and of supporting the new coping behaviors they may be learning as they work with me.
The older a youngster is, the more I may work with them alone, though in most cases parents remain involved. Much of my work with adolescents focuses on worry about the future, about life choices, going to college and establishing independence.
My work with adolescents generally focuses on navigating those transitions, understanding how to manage emotions and see interactions with people in realistic terms, and establishing a set of skills to serve as a base for entering adult life.