How to Find a Counselor or Therapist for Your Child

How to Find a Counselor or Therapist for Your Child


This is an excerpt from the book, What Parents Need to Know About ODD, by Dr. James Sutton (2007). 


 It’s very possible that you won’t need professional assistance in working with your oppositional and defiant child. But if you do, let me offer a few suggestions for finding a counselor, psychologist, therapist or social worker for your child. Look for someone who:

1. Is credentialed and experienced. Ask.

2. Devotes a good part of their practice to working with children and adolescents or families as a unit.

3. Understands oppositional and defiant behavior thoroughly.

4. Will work with you on school problems, including attending school meetings on occasion.

5. Will “connect” with your child so well that the youngster begins to see the therapist or counselor as an advocate, not an adversary. (An excellent early indicator her is that the youngster either looks forward to follow-up sessions, or at least attends without complaint.)


A personal referral, someone recommended by a person who knows you and your needs as well as the professional and their track record, is the best way to go. Check with your pediatrician, family physician, school counselor or a friend who’s “been there.”

If you can’t line up a good referral, don’t necessarily go straight to the Yellow Pages. Oppositional and defiant youngsters can be either incredibly tough on counselors and therapists, or their behavior is so good in the professional’s office that they don’t see the problem (and want to release your kid after the second visit).

Counties with large populations often have a county psychological association (and probably similar associations for counselors, social workers and therapists). They generally operate a referral line. The folks handling the phones or returning the calls can save you a ton of time and frustration by matching a few professionals to your specific needs. It’s nice to have a choice because factors like location and office hours can make a difference.

If you live fairly close to a major university, you might do well to contact the departments of psychology, counseling, social work or special education (or all of them). Not only can these folks often help you find a competent professional pretty quickly, these departments often operate counseling or therapy labs to train students. They’re actually looking for kids, and the cost is nominal or free. University students are supervised and highly motivated to do well; they regularly staff their lab cases with their supervising professors. And students working on their master’s or doctoral degrees are likely to have substantial experience anyway.