Therapeutic Style and Importance of Rapport
Rapport and comfort are essential elements in the therapeutic relationship, and have a lot to do with the outcome of therapy. Some studies have suggested that rapport is actually more important than the type of therapy provided. Because of that, initially you will want to think about whether a male or female therapist would be best for your child. Take into consideration whether your child's anxiety is related to a trauma, and who the key players were in the experience. After you have decided male or female, you will also want to have an idea about which type of approach and demeanor might be best. Some children feel more comfortable with a therapist who has a “down-to-earth” approach, wears jeans and sneakers, and loves to get on the floor to play games. Other children might feel best talking to someone who is more reserved, wears a suit or dresses up, and sits behind a desk, or in a chair in front of them. It might help to think about what teachers your child seems to like best, if she has already started school.
Do not let anyone, not a doctor, therapist, friend, or family member tell you there is one single best way to deal with your child or his anxiety. The mind and body are complex structures, not an absolute science, and therefore many different approaches could be helpful.
Think about the children she has played with and any comments she might have made about the moms and dads she has met. Or, maybe she is on a sports team and feels really comfortable with a certain coach, or a dance teacher. Whoever it is, think about what qualities that person has seeing how comfortable your child has been around them, and keep that in mind as you look for a therapist. You may be able to read something about their style when listening to their answer in your initial phone conversation. Rapport can start as early as listening to a voicemail or gel as late as the third session. If you or your child are still not feeling a connection with the therapist after three sessions you may need to reconsider who you are seeing.
Do Not Limit Yourself
Trust yourself to know what might work best for your child. If what you come up with is, “I'm just not sure,” then that is what you know; go with it. What that means is try a few different styles, both male and female, and let your child decide who felt the best and was the easiest to talk to. Finding a good therapist is a process, and there is no “one size fits all.” Sometimes it takes a few tries before you and your child will feel comfortable and safe, and you know you have found the right place for your child to do her work. Your approach can be, “let's give a few people a try, and then pick who we liked best.” Nevertheless, try to limit yourself to two or three to begin; you do not want to overwhelm your child with choices and you want to start making progress as soon as you can. There might not be an option as to whether or not your child goes to therapy, but that doesn't mean you can't take a collaborative approach to finding the right one.
What Collaboration Looks Like
After each initial appointment, on the way home, you and your child can openly rate how you each felt and make a game out of it. For example, you can make a chart that has certain factors listed on it, with a rating scale already made up and ready to go. Rate on a scale of 1–5:
How did the office feel when you walked in? ________
Did the therapist seem to value your input? ________
How caring did this therapist seem? ________
Did you feel safe when you talked to him? _______
Did she know how to talk with you about your feelings? _______
Does he have a good plan to help with your anxiety? _______
Does she seem like someone you could talk to again? _______
This kind of activity will help your child feel empowered and supported, setting the stage for a more positive therapy relationship to develop. He will feel as if you are all in this together, and that you care about how he feels by allowing him to be a part of the process. For a child with anxiety, that can be invaluable.