Talk Therapy and Children with Mental Illness

January 11, 2011 Angela McClanahan

Last week, I received an email from Bob's teacher, filling me in on his first week back at school following winter break. It was about what I expected--he's been pretty hateful and nasty to his peers, unwilling to follow directions, and sneaking around in order to get his way without getting in trouble. In short, not much different than how he's been acting at home for the past couple of weeks. Once again, I ask myself the question--is it time for talk therapy?

Talk Therapy Wasn't Very Effective For My Bipolar Child

therapy1Let me begin by saying this--I am not a huge fan of talk therapy*. I tend to think of it much the way I think of hypnosis--effective (and very much so) for some people; completely useless for others. For me, personally, talk therapy was effective only to a very small degree. I became well-versed in my condition and could tell you exactly why I did things I did and felt the way I felt--but I could no more control it than before I set foot in my first therapist's office.

For Bob, it seems to have been about the same. Only three when he started seeing his first therapist, the sessions seemed more for the parents than for the child. Which made sense--it was more important for us to learn how to deal with Bob than to try to get him to open up about his thoughts and feelings when he was barely out of diapers. As he got older, his high intellect thwarted most talk therapy efforts--he became highly skilled at figuring out the "right" answers to his therapists' questions, and therefore seemed to be progressing; yet his behavior at school and home were unchanged.

Older Now, Will Talk Therapy Help My Child Better Understand Bipolar Disorder?

therapy2Eventually, I concluded talk therapy for Bob was futile (and a waste of money) if his bipolar disorder wasn't stabilized. A manic child has no use for therapy because, in his view, there's nothing wrong with him. I told his therapist we were going to put therapy on hold until Bob had medical stability and a maturity level where it might be of some actual benefit. His therapist agreed.

Given the events of the past couple of months, the fact Bob seems to be more comprehending of his condition and his treatment, and the fact it's the time of year when mania starts to creep in again, I've scheduled an appointment for Bob to see his therapist later this week. I don't know if it will do much good, if any. I hope it will at least help Bob understand things a little better and get some answers he may be looking for.

* Talk therapy - non-drug treatment such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, social rhythm therapy, etc.

APA Reference
McClanahan, A. (2011, January 11). Talk Therapy and Children with Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Angela McClanahan

Dr Musli Ferati
January, 17 2011 at 6:23 am

Mental disorders in children are specific, they found in the age of psycho-physical development. In addition many mental illness in children manifested through an antisocial conduct which in many cases tolerated and supported from their parents. Thus , working with parent is of primary in overcoming and treating mental health disorders in children. There remains very little to works with mentally ill children, more so when their age is younger. However, some verbal interventions in children are preferable. The same is best accompanied by models of a more functional behavior.

January, 13 2011 at 6:20 pm

We're about in the same boat here. Talk therapy seemed to help my daughter when she was 10 and still learning that she needed help. Now that she's 14, and her libido has kicked in, mania is different. "There's nothing wrong with me" is the new mantra and she treats everyone who tries to thwart her will with hate and contention. She cannot hear logic; she is not in a position to help herself. We think maybe it's time to go on medication.
I am glad I got to read this today. If therapy doesn't help this go-round, we will know why. It makes sense to me. Thank you for posting this.

Laurie,Chrisy's & Molly's Mom
January, 13 2011 at 10:29 am

Hi, this is my 1st time here, so bare w/ me. I strive to live w/ Major Anxiety, Major Depression & PTSD. I am 53,single mom, divorced. My Chrissy, 18, is Spe Needs, born w/ Apraxia of speech & Language. Sometimes she is a 5 yr old, sometimes about 16. She has been in & out of "Play therapy" starting in 3rd grade.(She also lives with major anxiety & depression.)This helped her to understand her feelings, and getting along w/ others.I asked for a Behavior Plan in High School because of O tolerance. She spent her 1st week of 9th grade in ISS or OSS , (In school suspension)Then Talk therapy, in Middle School, now back to the therapist that did Play therapy , Now Talk therapy, she illustrates things on a white board, or makes lists of Pros & cons so Chrissy can visually see things. Chrissy is also on Prozac, 40mg. Upping that made a big help.
Now, Molly is 22, Biploar like her Dad, and ADD. she can now regulate herself. She takes Adderal for college or testing etc. and Xanax as needed. She has not found another med to take yet?? Molly graduated fron GA ST Univ,this past summer, w/ a BS in Psychology & minor in Sociolology. she graduated Summa Com Laude, I Prayed hard and she has always been very smart ! She counsels, talks w/her Psychiatrist, every 2 months. I took her to every therapist in Gwinnett county ! she would not open up and talk about her Dad. She is going to take the GRE and go somewhere to grad School for her Psy D. I also attend Nami, I have many friends w/ Bipolar and found meds that work for them. How hold is your son ? Have you done a BIP for him at school ? Does he have an IEP or a 504 plan ? I wish I could help ypu more, Laurie

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