Essential Skills Child Therapists Should Master

Every child requires personalized care, although there are some skills that child therapists should master. Our team at PracticeSpace supports many different kinds of therapy, so this list is by no means all encompassing, but it's a good starting point.

Here are five, and how to get better at them.

  1. Active Listening: Active listening is a foundational skill for child therapists. It involves not just hearing the child's words but also paying attention to their nonverbal cues, emotions, and underlying messages. To become a better active listener, therapists can:
  • Practice mindfulness: Cultivate mindfulness to be fully present with the child during therapy sessions. This means setting aside distractions, focusing on the child, and suspending judgment.
  • Reflective practice: Regularly reflect on your sessions and identify moments where active listening was effective or could be improved. Consider seeking feedback from supervisors or colleagues to gain insights and different perspectives.
  • Attend training and workshops: Participate in workshops or training programs that specifically focus on active listening skills. These opportunities can provide valuable techniques and exercises to enhance listening skills. Our team at PracticeSpace actually recommends trying improv comedy - no, seriously - as a way to get better.
  1. Empathy and Compassion: Empathy and compassion are crucial for establishing strong therapeutic alliance with children. Therapists need to understand and acknowledge the child's experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Here are some ways to develop and enhance these qualities:
  • Self-reflection: Reflect on your own experiences and emotions to develop a deeper understanding of the human condition. This self-awareness can help you connect with and empathize with the children you work with.
  • Seek supervision: Regular supervision can provide a space to process your feelings and reactions to your clients' experiences. A supervisor can offer guidance and support in developing and maintaining compassion while avoiding burnout.
  • Engage in self-care: Taking care of yourself is essential for maintaining empathy and compassion. Engage in activities that help you relax, rejuvenate, and recharge. This might include hobbies, exercise, spending time in nature, or seeking support from your own therapist. Mental health work is difficult and one that often leads to burnout. Be proactive where you can.
  1. Play Therapy Techniques: Play therapy is a powerful approach for engaging children in therapy and facilitating their emotional expression and healing. To improve play therapy techniques, therapists can:
  • Get specialized training: Pursue specialized training in play therapy to gain a deeper understanding of theoretical foundations, techniques, and interventions. Look for certifications or courses offered by recognized play therapy associations and leaders.
  • Observe experienced therapists: Shadow experienced play therapists or observe their sessions to learn from their expertise. Note their strategies, interactions, and interventions, and apply those insights to your own practice.
  • Expand your repertoire: Continuously explore and incorporate new play therapy techniques into your practice. This might include using art, sand, music, or drama-based interventions to provide diverse avenues for children to express themselves. Consider using a virtual playroom if you're providing remote care. You shouldn't be using the same tools to treat a child's mental health that you use for business meetings.
  1. Behavior Management Strategies: Child therapists often encounter challenging behaviors during therapy sessions. To effectively manage behaviors and promote positive change, therapists can:
  • Pursue behavioral training: Attend workshops or seminars that focus on behavior management strategies. Learn evidence-based techniques, such as positive reinforcement, token systems, or CBT.
  • Collaborate with other professionals: Consult with teachers, parents, and other professionals involved in the child's life. Collaborate on consistent behavior management strategies to ensure continuity and reinforce progress outside the therapy setting.
  • Stay updated on research: Keep abreast of the latest research and best practices in behavior management. Subscribe to professional journals, attend conferences, and participate in webinars to stay informed and integrate new knowledge into your practice.
  1. Collaboration and Communication: Child therapists often work in collaboration with parents, teachers, and other professionals to provide comprehensive support to the child. Enhance your collaboration and communication skills with these strategies:
  • Establish rapport: Build trust and rapport with parents and other professionals by actively listening, being respectful, and demonstrating empathy. Engage in open and nonjudgmental conversations to foster effective communication.
  • Share information: Regularly share relevant information with stakeholders, such as progress updates
  • Get feedback from the child: Children deserve more credit. Once you've established rapport, ask the child for their thoughts too

While there any many skills that make a great child therapist, mastering these five —active listening, empathy and compassion, play therapy techniques, behavior management strategies, and collaboration and communication—will equip child therapists with the tools they need to make a positive impact in the lives of the children they serve. Continuous professional development, self-reflection, and an openness to learning and growth are essential for therapists to refine these skills and provide the best possible care for their young clients. By nurturing these skills, child therapists can contribute to the well-being and emotional growth of the children they support.