Types of Child Psychotherapy

While "child psychotherapy" is frequently connected with specific treatment techniques, any classification of therapies as instances of child psychotherapy must be seen as somewhat arbitrary, as no one definition has received universal approval. However, there are certain commonalities between these techniques. In this context, child psychotherapy is typically viewed as an interpersonal process including a verbal and nonverbal exchange between a child experiencing psychological difficulties and a therapist who assists.

In this setting, the therapist tries to understand the child's concerns and uses the nature of the connection and numerous therapeutic strategies to encourage personality and behavior change.

Types of Therapy

The most common paradigmatic forms of child psychotherapy are psychodynamic and nondirective/client-centered treatments that focus on the nature of the therapeutic connection. This category also includes interpersonal psychotherapy, employed with children and adolescents lately. While most people associate child psychotherapy with nonbehavioral therapies emphasizing discourse and play, cognitive-behavioral techniques can also be considered "psychotherapeutic."

These techniques do not limit themselves to more typical behavioral methods but also address difficulties such as problem-solving, irrational beliefs, causal attributions, and other maladaptive cognitions that can contribute to emotional discomfort and maladaptive behavior. The emphasis on cognitive elements and how they interact with mood and behavior leads to a method that significantly overlaps with established methods of child psychotherapy. Consider the items cross-referenced with this entry for overviews of this and other child psychotherapy techniques.

Parent Infant Psychotherapy

If the usual path of a safe connection between parent and newborn is broken, parent-infant psychotherapy can be used to repair this link. This strategy necessitates a three-way collaboration between the parent, kid, and therapist. During therapy sessions, the parent shares his or her ideas and feelings, which are based on a variety of elements such as −

  • The parent's experiences as a kid

  • The parent's aspirations and dreams for the child's future

  • The parent's interactions with others

The therapist's function is to observe and interpret the child-parent interaction. The therapist may share some of his opinions regarding the kid's actions with the parent, providing the parent with an alternate way of viewing the child. This strategy assists the parent in resolving difficulties from his or her childhood to restore stable bonding with the newborn. It also reduces the child's future risk of psychopathological development.

Mentaliseren Bevorderende Kinder Therapy (MBKT)

The Nederlands Psychoanalytisch Instituut NPI (Dutch Psychoanalytic Institute) has been working with a type of treatment for children called "Mentaliseren Bevorderende Kinder Therapie" (MBKT), which translates approximately as "therapy for children enhancing their ability to mentalize" since 2003. This treatment is partly based on Fonagy's (2002) theory, which emphasizes mentalization as a fundamental topic. Mentalizing occurs when two developmental notions, the equivalent modus, and the pretend modus, can be merged.

A youngster solely functioning in a similar modus does not distinguish between reality and fiction. The inside and outside are the same. There is a distinction between reality and imagination in the case of a youngster who exclusively functions in pretend mode. They do, however, exist independently of one another. When the youngster is pretending, he is unaware of his natural level. When both modes are combined, the infant becomes conscious that he is acting, and mentalization develops.

Mentalization is a conscious and unconscious process that allows people to see that their own and others' behaviors and ideas are motivated by internal thoughts, intentions, and attitudes.

The development of a child's self-regulating mechanisms and capacity to mentalize (known as Interpersonal Interpretative Function, IIF) are based on their "early attachment relation." Trauma can lead a youngster to become detached from unpleasant feelings associated with the events and people involved in the trauma. This inability to integrate such sensations may impact how the kid comes to operate.

A flood of fear, for example, can drive the youngster to revert to a comparable mode of operation. Attention regulation and "affect regulation" are two more components that are critical in the development of the kid and are primarily reliant on the quality of the connection to the parent.

When neither is well regulated, a treatment may assist in impacting the flow of both. The youngster still operates in the equivalent modus, which means inadequate affect representations, which is the beginning point in attention regulation. The typically diffuse effects of the kid within the therapeutic relationship are studied in affect management. It is critical that the youngster goes through their feelings and recognizes them by building mental representations of them. As this mentalisation process' progresses, the youngster may operate in the pretend mode and use symbolic representations.

Interventions aim to improve thinking about mental illnesses and mental processes. With two to five sessions each week, MBKT may be classified as an intense therapy. These workshops are a mix of discussion and play. The therapist will play and converse with the kid to access the child's inner world and mold all of the parts and pieces that need to be merged. The transference/countertransference technique is applicable. These can point to what needs to be addressed.

Effectiveness of Child Psychotherapy

Child psychotherapy outcome research continues to lag behind adult psychotherapy research regarding the quantity and quality of published studies. Few authors have published qualitative evaluations and critiques of the child psychotherapy research literature throughout the last few decades. According to these analyses, while some studies give grounds to assume that child psychotherapy can result in favorable results, methodological shortcomings sometimes make it difficult to draw clear conclusions about efficacy or effectiveness.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of quantitative outcome studies using meta-analysis. This statistical tool allows for the simultaneous summarization, integration, and evaluation of treatment effects across trials.

In the mid to late 1980s, two meta-analytic investigations assessed the efficacy of various psychotherapy therapies for children/adolescents with various difficulties. Both analyses provided evidence for the overall efficacy of therapy compared to control groups, with behavioral techniques outperforming psychodynamic and client-centered approaches. Including a high number of therapy trials involving children with illnesses that were not especially representative of those observed in actual practice was a limitation of these two meta-analyses.

Because of the severity of their difficulties, many of the children in this research were recruited mainly for therapy studies rather than being clinically referred. Many demonstrated single issues rather than many challenges, as is familiar with clinic patients. Many were treated by doctors who had received special training in specialized treatment procedures for research projects. Because of these difficulties, it is uncertain whether these meta-analytic findings provide information about the effectiveness of child psychotherapy as it is commonly practiced in professional settings.


Child psychotherapy is an interpersonal process that involves a verbal and nonverbal exchange between a child and a therapist to encourage personality and behavior change. Forms of therapy include psychodynamic and nondirective/client-centered treatments and cognitive-behavioral techniques.

Psychotherapy for children is based on elements of the therapeutic relationship and treatment approaches, such as empathy, authenticity, and warmth. The first stage of therapy establishes the groundwork for subsequent phases, while the intermediate stage focuses on leveraging evaluation data and the patient-therapist connection to effect patient change.

Updated on: 09-May-2023


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