Mental health disorders don’t discriminate; they impact individuals of all ages. As such, children and adults alike can both benefit from psychotherapy. However, the approach isn’t necessarily the same. So, how does adult psychotherapy and child psychotherapy differ?

Learn more about the key differences below and what you may want to consider when searching for child counselling versus counselling for adults.

Key Differences Between Child and Adult Therapy

Considering children are still developing, therapeutic approaches for children versus adults vary. The child’s age often guides how a therapist approaches their treatment. Thus, there are also some differences between children and adolescent therapy. Some general differences between child and adult psychotherapy include:

  • Communication styles
  • Subjects discussed
  • Type of therapeutic approach used
  • Consideration of developmental milestones

For example, child therapy may prove more effective by using the language of play. Children tend to express their emotions through play, displaying them in drawings, paintings, games, and toys. This means that a therapist will probably gain more insight and help them process their emotions better by using play therapy. Meanwhile, adolescents may become more engaged in the sharing of stories or through humour. Inevitably, this will also depend on the individual and what stage of development they are in.

Teenagers may also be more likely to have issues relating to bullying, a need for independence, self-harm, eating disorders, identity, or family dynamics. In contrast, adults often face mental health issues relating to relationships, work stress, anxiety, substance abuse, or health concerns. In these cases, verbal communication (talk therapy) may be more appropriate and effective.

Types of Therapy for Children vs Adults

Different therapeutic approaches may prove effective across a spectrum of ages and developmental stages. Below, we take a closer look at what types of therapies are used and when.

Child Psychotherapy

For children, the following types of therapy are frequently used to untangle emotional impacts and help address them:

Play Therapy: Play is the main way children express themselves. It offers insights into a child’s thoughts, questions, and problems. It further teaches them social cues and norms, as well as how to view everyday life. With play therapy, a child is supported by a therapist through play. It allows a therapist to speak in the same language as a child, helping address emotional and behavioural problems. This is particularly powerful for children 11 years and under who may have not yet developed abstract thinking.

Expressive Therapies: Expressive therapies may be beneficial for older children or adolescents. This approach uses writing, art, music, dance, or drama with therapeutic support as a way to share and process feelings and emotions. Sometimes, traditional talk therapy is used alongside this approach.

Adolescent & Adult Psychotherapy

While adolescents may require special considerations depending on their stage of development, adolescent and adult approaches to therapy are very similar. They both often use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy, to uncover the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. This can help an individual overcome negative patterns and learn new ways to address them.

Adolescents may benefit from slightly different communication approaches, as well as some aspects of expressive therapies. However, research indicates the effectiveness of CBT in treating eating disorders, stress, anxiety, depression, and anger issues—which may impact both adolescents and adults.

Assessments and Diagnosis for Children vs Adults

It’s important to note that young children may not understand why they have therapy sessions. In many cases, these sessions may, thus, be presented as extra play or learning time. The key goal ‌is to provide a safe and secure environment where children can freely express themselves while also fostering growth and learning. This further means that mental health assessment and diagnostic tools for adults versus children will also differ.

Again, play and expressive therapies may be a significant part of a child’s initial evaluation. Yet, a therapist may have set criteria for diagnoses. Meanwhile, since adults are aware of the therapeutic process, questionnaires, interview questions, and other discussions guide their assessment and diagnosis. In both cases, medical history, physical exams, and lab testing with a family physician may also be appropriate, depending on the specific situation.

Additional Considerations for Children vs Adults

For children, parental involvement is of particular importance. Depending on the situation, parental involvement may lead to more effective and positive therapeutic outcomes in child and adolescent therapy. Yet, in some cases, such as for adolescents who want more independence, parental involvement may not be the best course of action.

Either way, a clinic needs the consent of a guardian for anyone under the age of 18 to undergo mental health treatment. In contrast, adults provide consent for themselves for treatment and are directly involved in decisions regarding their specific treatment.

Challenges and Solutions for Children vs Adults

While treating children for mental health issues may come with some hurdles, such as limited verbal expression, modern therapists have a vast toolkit to help gain insight and address emotional or behavioural concerns in children.

Play therapy, in particular, is very effective at helping children express themselves and work through difficult emotions. While there are many psychotherapy differences when it comes to treating children versus adults, both groups can benefit from therapy. Oftentimes, for children, pharmaceutical intervention won’t be the first approach due to the impact it may have on the developing brain.

For adults, many cases may see improvements when combining medication with talk therapy. Your therapist may recommend consulting with your physician and can be in contact with them with your written consent.

Whether you or your child requires support, the Bhatia Psychology Group team offers a compassionate and caring shoulder to lean on. Together, we can help you overcome mental health hurdles and pave your way toward a better life. Contact our team today for more information.


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