Types of Mental Health Services for Young Children

If you’re considering therapy for your young child, you may have many questions. For one, you may wonder how a therapist will work with you and your child. There are many ways of providing therapeutic services to young children. They may take place at school, a therapist’s office, a local family resource center, or the family’s home. Here is a brief description of some of the more common types of services provided by an early childhood mental health professional.

Parent-Child Psychotherapy

This approach involves working with the parent and young child together. The focus is on supporting the parent-child relationship. Often this work is done in the most natural setting – the family’s home. Here, the therapist provides support and guidance to strengthen the parent-child attachment. If your child is three years old or younger, most therapists will choose to work with you and your child together. That’s because the parent-child relationship is very important during these first three years. In addition, this type of support can be valuable for parents who may be having trouble bonding with their child or for families experiencing great stress or trauma.

Play Therapy

This approach provides children with the opportunity to use play as a means of expressing themselves. It allows them to work through difficult experiences or feelings. The child works with a trained play therapist, either one-on-one or with the parent. This provides a safe, accepting space for children to work on challenging or complex feelings that may interfere with the child’s ability to participate fully at home and at school. Play therapy can be very helpful for children who are experiencing worries, sadness, or depression, trouble with transitions, grief and loss, or challenging behaviors at home or at school. Play is also a key aspect of many other types of therapeutic services with young children, such as DIR/Floortime, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, and many school-based therapeutic services. See the resources section below for more information on these programs.

Social Skills or Therapeutic Playgroups

These groups provide young children – often four to six per group – the opportunity to play, practice, and learn social skills, self-regulation, and communication skills in a safe, nurturing environment. Groups often take place for a limited time, often eight to 12 weeks. You may have the option of having your child continue in a group if the support seems to help. Depending upon the size of the group, playgroups are facilitated by one or two therapists.

Collateral Parent Meetings

A key to the success of any child’s treatment is the ongoing support and involvement of the parents or caregivers. Whether the child is receiving play therapy at school or participating in a social skills group at the local family resource center, most therapists working with young children will want to create a regular schedule of meetings with the parents. This will help with exchange of information about your child’s progress and changes or events taking place at home or school. It will also provide you support needed for understanding your child’s needs.

Related Articles

For more information on supporting your child’s social-emotional health, please visit my article:
Social-Emotional Development http://www.abilitypath.org/articles/article/child-development/social–emotional/social-emotional-development.html

Links and Resources »


Cooper, S., and Wanerman, L. (1977) Children in Treatment: A primer for beginning psychotherapists. New York, NY: Brunner/Mazel.

Lieberman, A. and Pawl, J. (1993) Infant-Parent Psychotherapy. In C. Zeanah (Ed.), Handbook of Infant Mental Health (pp 427–444). New York, NY: Guildford Press.

Lieberman, A., and Van Horn, P. (2008) Psychotherapy with Infants and Young Children: Repairing the effects of stress and trauma on early attachment. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

O’Connor, K. (2000) The Play Therapy Primer. New York: Wiley.