Who is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist?

In New Zealand a Child Psychotherapist is a clinician who works with children, adolescents and their families with a psychodynamic, psychoanalytic and systemic frame of reference.

A Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist must be registered with the Psychotherapy Board of Aotearoa New Zealand (PBANZ)  and will be registered under the Child and Adolescent Specialism.

A Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist is able to engage in talking therapy with children and young people but has specific training in observing and responding to what children might be communicating through their behaviour, play and way of relating to others.

A Child Psychotherapist will have an in-depth understanding of child development, attachment and the impact of experience on the developing brain. With these understandings Child and Adolescent Psychotherapists are able to support parents, families and carers to understand the meaning behind their child’s behaviour and increase their understanding of the child’s perspective.

A Child Psychotherapist will also work alongside other professionals in the child’s life including teachers, occupational therapists and Ministry of Education psychologists.

Child and Adolescent Psychotherapists also offer clinical supervision to a wide range of professionals working with young people. These include child psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, school counsellors, doctors and social workers.


A Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist will employ an intervention best suited to the child or young person’s age and stage of development.

Children will be seen in a playroom to facilitate their expression through play, adolescents will be more likely to talk about what is happening for them but may also appreciate other forms of expression such as art or the sand tray. This type of therapy helps children to find ways of verbalising their feelings rather than act them out. Feelings of anger, fear, confusion or shame, for example can be safely explored. The aim is to offer a safe therapeutic space for children and their parents/whanau and caregivers.

A Child Psychotherapist is also able to work with the early relationship between mother and baby. A key component of this therapy is the relationship between the therapist, child and family.


A child psychotherapist is able to help where there are concerns regarding a child’s social relationships, their behaviour, their self-esteem and emotional wellbeing or struggles within the parent/child relationship or other concerns around mental health including oppositional behaviours, anxiety, depression, self-harm and developmental delay.

They will also treat children who have experienced abuse, neglect and trauma. Alternatively the parents/caregivers may be seen without the child in order to support the parents understand and help their children.

Child Psychotherapists frequently work with parents to help them explore and develop their parenting style. A particular goal of this type of therapy is to improve and strengthen the parent-child relationship.

Child Psychotherapists offer a particular therapeutic service for children who are in CYF care and may have experienced repeated changes in care giving after negative early childhood experiences.

Foster parents and long term care givers are an important component of this therapy, the aim is to encourage the child overcome their trauma and be able to develop healthy and secure attachment relationships.


Child psychotherapists often work in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services CAMHS); they also may work in non-government community based organisations, many will also be working in private practice. See Find a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist.  Click Here


 A therapy session usually lasts for about an hour, and happens once a week.

A Child Psychotherapist will decide what might suit the particular family after a brief phone conversation, the following is a explanation of how therapy may typically be conducted. In the first session, the therapist will usually see all family/ whanau members who live with the young person, to explore their concerns and explain the therapy process.

Toys and art materials are provided for children to communicate their concerns through the use of symbolic play and activities. This could include dramatic play, painting, drawing and talking. The next sessions will vary depending on the issues being addressed.

Parents may meet with the therapist alone, and the whole family may be involved several times.

Commonly, the child will spend time on their own with the therapist. Some children find it difficult to talk about what is worrying them.

Child psychotherapists are trained to understand a child’s emotional and relational world through observing their play and art work. This is then discussed with parents and caregivers to help the child overcome issues they may be experiencing.

How long does a course of therapy take? A course of therapy can vary in length from a few sessions to many months. In severe cases it can take two or three years.


Alex’s Story:

Alex is an eight-year-old boy whose parents were concerned about his difficult, aggressive behaviour at home and school. Things had been getting worse over the past year. Alex was in danger of being expelled from his primary school and his parents felt they couldn’t cope any longer. However, Alex’s parents felt they overreacted to Alex when they were tired or stressed. They also said Alex could be very loving and was usually patient and kind to his younger sister and brother. They decided to see a child psychotherapist.

The therapist assessed Alex’s development and family history. There were several factors that seemed to be affecting Alex. When he was born his parents were under a lot of personal stress. They didn’t feel prepared for a baby and felt unsupported by family and friends. Alex was put in preschool at an early age. He showed a lot of anxiety about being separated from his parents, and became aggressive and disruptive.

Alex moved to a new primary school last year and during this time his younger sister became ill, needing emergency trips to hospital. There was a family history of anxiety and depression, and some family members were known for their “difficult, aggressive” personalities. Alex’s angry behaviour showed he had low self-esteem and did not feel loved or understood by his family. His mother felt very anxious and helpless about Alex’s anger, and she felt blamed by the school.

Therapy sessions focussed on helping Alex’s mother feel confident and secure in her role as a mother. Sessions where Alex and his mum played together helped Alex see her as loving, interested and there for him. Home life for Alex and his family improved immediately. Alex’s mother felt she could respond to him in better ways, and Alex felt more secure within his family. A follow-up session after six weeks confirmed that relationships were continuing to improve. In his first weeks of a new school term Alex had no issues and his teachers were pleased with his behaviour

8 May 2015 Written by Mary Cubitt & Jo Doyle