Child Therapist Brooklyn
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.” - Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers)
Are the Kids Alright?
When it comes to children’s mental health, it is sometimes difficult to assess how a child is doing. Many children go through some stages that can be challenging for the whole family, and are part of the typical developmental process. It should be said that it never hurts to have a professional who can help a child work through struggles or self-doubt. However, it’s important to note when things feel particularly overwhelming, either from a parent’s perspective or that of the child, as children don’t always ask for assistance with words, and their behaviors can be a call for help.
Certain behavioral displays can signal a more pressing need to seek professional help, especially if they are severe or persistent. For example, if a child seems despondent, doesn’t connect well with others, is acting violently, or expressing feelings of hopelessness, there may be an issue with a mood disorder and possibly a problem with social skills. If a child is often irritable, stressed, worried, and seems unable to concentrate, they may be dealing with anxiety or another mental health issue. These are all symptoms that suggest some further assessment from a therapist in a clinical setting would be useful.
A child psychologist or child therapist can assess and treat children and adolescents who may be suffering from emotional or social issues. As a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, I have been trained to recognize certain patterns, disorders, or maladaptive behaviors that require a closer look. When I work one on one with a child suffering from any of these or other symptoms, it is necessary to dig deeper. It may be difficult to talk about certain fears and feelings, but over time, the therapeutic alliance grows and trust builds, creating a safe space for emotional exploration.
All this work we do: the introspection, looking at family systems, examining attachments, and so forth, is all in service of supporting the child’s progress and healing. Therapists work with children to increase their self-esteem, and develop healthy relationships and boundaries. Working through the lens of attachments helps us in understanding how our early bons inform the connections we make in the future. I’ll delve more into the significance of attachment and how this approach is constructive in a child’s mental health treatment.
What is an Attachment-based Approach?
I view human behavior through the lens of attachment, which essentially means I understand the critical role of how our early attachment with caregivers informs our subsequent relationships. If parents or other caregivers provide secure, consistent, and loving care, this positively impacts a child’s sense of self, and how they are able to engage with others. Abuse, neglect, or a highly inconsistent pattern of care, is likely to negatively affect a child’s ability to form new connections or bonds with others. These early patterns train our brain in what to expect, and we use this information when adapting to novel situations through adolescence and into adulthood.
Our attachments affect the formation of all our relationships, and our relationships are foundational to how we interact with the world every day. When working with children, I observe how these attachment styles manifest, to further understand the roots of their own responses. Certain choices hold people back causing them to put up walls, while other choices invite conversation and growth. With the support of parents and family, we can work to rebuild relationships with a foundation of trust in a nurturing environment.
It’s important to understand a bit about the child’s history in order to best support them to move forward. A therapist who draws upon these attachment-based approaches can better serve their clients by understanding the source of these behaviors and emotional challenges. If a child has moved between homes and caregivers, and has recently been adopted, it will be critical for both the therapist and the parents to understand how the child’s early attachments may affect their current emotional state and behaviors. It is helpful to know as much as we can about a child’s story in order to help them make adjustments, and adapt to whatever life brings.
Whether a child has experienced abuse in the past, is going through a difficult life change, or is overwhelmed by extreme emotional distress, there is a light outside of this darkness. Seeing a therapist provides a child a safe space to process their emotions by fostering an environment of empathy and respect.
Children Suffering from Anxiety or Depression
Many children experience moments where they feel sad, angry, worried, or hopeless. These are all typical and adaptive behaviors to have. At certain stages, little ones will have big reactions to being separated for any length of time from their parents, or may develop fears and become obsessed with a favorite toy. A teen may talk back or have mood swings. These situations can and often do occur even if children are in a safe home with secure attachments.
When these feelings and reactions are limited to phases, or don’t have an excessively negative impact on a child’s day to day life, there may not be a major cause for concern. However, if your child has expressed extreme sadness, feelings of wanting to hurt themselves, or hopelessness, or shown other signs of anxiety and depression, it’s important to find help. Seeking mental health treatment with a licensed clinical social worker or psychologist shows your child that you see them, love them, and want to help them get better. They may or may not be on board with the idea initially, but just as with other health concerns, it’s important to be cared for by a professional who has expertise.
Since depression is a risk factor for self-harm and suicide, it is critical to address symptoms as soon as they become evident. Again, it may be hard to know when a teenager just needs space and when they are distant, despondent, and suffering inside. If they lose interest in hobbies they always enjoyed before, and their emotions are interfering with their ability to accomplish basic day to day activities, there could be a serious issue. Of course, not wanting to play a certain sport anymore or being reluctant to help with laundry doesn’t necessarily mean your child is depressed, but if there is ongoing and increasing sadness, then it’s a good time to reach out.
When it comes to anxiety in children, we may assume it always shows up as fear and worry, but it’s important to know that it might also manifest as anger and irritability. This may stem from frustrations about not being able to control situations that are causing them concern, or an inability to deal with their complicated emotions. They may not share that they are experiencing other symptoms, but it’s good to know what those are, so you can keep an eye out. If they often seem weak, are irritable, and have difficulty sleeping or concentrating, these can be signs that point to anxiety. If these symptoms also coincide with episodes of rapid breathing, increased heart rate and trembling, or perspiring, they may be experiencing some acute symptoms of panic and anxiety.
Children with anxiety disorders have challenges confronting and processing their worries, which impacts their life in such a way that is not sustainable or productive. They may need help dealing with phobias, separation or social anxiety, and panic disorders. Many times children may even be able to acknowledge that their anxiety-ridden responses are not working well for them. However, they might need help internalizing new messages or reframing issues in order to make sure that their behavioral responses align with reality. It’s important to be able to distinguish between serious dangers and unlikely scenarios.
There are many clinical treatment options to consider when working with children who experience anxiety and depression. Creative arts therapies offer tools that aid in addressing each of these mental health challenges. Art therapy, for example, may help provide a space where a child can relax into a creative activity like sand play or drawing. Sometimes by using play therapy or working with puppets, a therapist can help a child think through seemingly scary scenarios to show that there are healthy ways to copel with anxious feelings or fear.
Through drawing or journaling, an adolescent may reveal an insecurity in a particular area of their life that might require some additional support. For example, maybe they are exceedingly anxious about having to do a video project that everyone at school will see or they feel bad about their body. It may also be important to take a look at teens' use of social media, as research suggests it's not always working to promote a healthy view of self, and ultimately has negative impacts on mental health. Whatever the specific case may be, children and adolescents often appreciate having a safe space to share their feelings outside of the family unit, and a therapist can help them along their journey to heal.
Children Dealing with Divorce
When parents divorce, children often feel a sense of sadness, loss, uncertainty, and fear. Some of these emotions may look like symptoms of anxiety or depression, and a big life event like this may actually lead to such mental health issues. Since parents are undoubtedly going through a difficult time during a divorce, sometimes children’s behavioral problems or symptoms might be missed. For that reason, it’s good for a child to have the opportunity to work with a therapist who provides a safe, neutral space and can offer their full attention.
If a child is already displaying compulsive behaviors, regressing to earlier developmental stages, or acting out in other ways, it’s good to seek help soon. Early intervention is important in these cases, so that unhealthy patterns don’t take the place of processing emotions. Divorce can shake a child’s foundation and disrupt their daily life, which is what has provided much of their sense of security. Since this is happening, it’s important to strengthen their sense of security in other ways, like reaffirming close relationships, maintaining consistency in care giving and letting them know that both parents will still be present in their life.
There are other critical points to convey to children whose parents are going through a divorce. You want to clearly communicate what’s happening so they will be able to identify what’s coming up around the bend and not be further triggered by unexpected changes. Of course, it’s impossible to foresee every eventuality, as divorce can be unpredictable, but the intention is to be as upfront and honest as possible. Another critical message to convey is that the child is loved and though the family is going through changes, this is one constant they can count on. Finally, it’s important to underscore that in no way is the divorce the child or children's fault. Parents may fall out of love, but their love for their children always remains.
Since some parents may get defensive when listening to children process their feelings about the divorce, or want so much to assure them that things will get better, it can be helpful for children to speak to a neutral third party who is also a professional. I can provide a space without judgement for a child to voice all of their fear, anger, or resentment. Sometimes saying things out loud is a big relief. I utilize evidence-based approaches that consistently produce positive outcomes for children. Even though every child is unique and different, if we look at the needs they are expressing through their behaviors, then we can work to explore what’s underneath. When we look through the lens of attachment, we can see how positive and secure emotional connections are the foundation on which to build.
Children and Trauma
When there is a traumatic event in a child’s life, it can have ripple effects for years and rear its ugly head in a variety of ways. In addition to being a tragedy, a death in the family disrupts attachments and can cause major mental health issues. There's also evidence that exposure to extreme violence will cause trauma and likely bring about behavioral concerns. Trauma will take a toll on a child, and it's important to find treatment with an experienced professional therapist that the child can trust.
As mentioned above, I have spent years working with children and young adults going through difficult situations and adjusting to new realities. Many of them have experienced great loss and suffered trauma in their young lives. I often work with children connected to the foster care system, and have personally seen how therapy - whether it's play therapy, a cognitive-behavioral approach, or creative arts therapy - can help adolescents feel heard, learn new coping skills, and begin to heal. With the help of counseling services and a lot of work, they are able to adjust and finally have a sense of home.
Reach out with questions or to start sessions
I look forward to hearing from you and discussing what it might look like to work with you or your child. Though my in-person practice was based in Brooklyn, NY, I am currently conducting all sessions online via Telehealth. I am able to work with clients in New York, from Brooklyn to Buffalo, or from anywhere around the world. The important thing to know is that treatment with me is a safe space, wherever it is.
I have a Master of Social Work from New York University. Additionally, I was trained in Art and Dance Therapy at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. When working with children, I aim to establish an authentic connection so they can feel seen and understood, and we can move through challenging times together. If you are a parent seeking help for your child, or an adolescent or young adult experiencing troubling symptoms, please feel free to reach out with any questions.
Becca Leitman's lens and therapeutic approach are rooted in Attachment Therapy. I believe there is great importance in developing healthy, emotionally-fulfilling connections with yourself and those closest to you. I am currently conducting all sessions online via Telehealth. I am able to work with clients from anywhere in New York, or across the country. Just know that treatment with me is a safe and confidential space, wherever it is. Let’s talk. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest , Psychology Today and LinkedIn for mental health guidance, stress and anxiety tips, therapy resources and more.