Choosing the Right Therapy for Your Child

  • May 31 2017 by

One issue that is often brought to Dr. Jacob Boney, owner and clinical director of Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services, is that of parents seeking therapy recommendations for a child. When a parent initially calls, he will hear some version of…

“My child doesn’t seem happy. They seem really anxious or it seems like they may have some depression symptoms. You’re a behavioral therapist, so, what type of therapy would be good for my child? How do I know what kind of therapy to get? How do I know what to look for in a provider?”

Types of Therapy for Children

There are three general areas of therapy for children:

  • Play Therapy
  • CBT – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Intensive Behavioral Therapy

Each has its own strengths, and each fits a specific patient population really well.

Play Therapy uses the language of play to assess, analyze and treat children’s issues. This method is based on the premise that children know how to best express themselves and understand the world through actions of play. This form of therapy is very experiential and everything takes place “in the moment”. It is especially good for younger children without more developed vocabulary and language skills and is recommended for emotional types of issues, like anxiety and depression. Adjustment issues, like how a child is handling divorce of parents, trauma, abuse or neglect, can be very effectively addressed through play therapy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) analyzes and assesses cognitive and behavioral patterns. This method determines maladaptive patterns and comes up with more appropriate behavior replacements. CBT is commonly referred to as “talk therapy” and does involve a lot of languages, considerably more than play therapy, which is why that method is more effective for younger children. This type of therapy is not just process oriented but involves inside and outside awareness, meaning that things that happen outside the session are also discussed. Children who are highly verbal, have more advanced insight and the ability to self-correct tend to do well with this method.

Intensive Behavioral Therapy, the method used by Dr. Boney, is based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which as we have discussed before, is not a type of therapy but rather a field of science. This method can be used for any age group, although when there are significant behavior issues before the age of 2, there is often a bio-medical component that needs to be addressed first. Patients are treated on the basis of behavioral excesses and behavioral deficits, without there being the need for a lot of talking or insight. Believed by Dr. Boney to be the best treatment method to change behavioral issues, although not necessarily for those related to trauma, abuse and neglect. While it can be effective for those also, children need a form of expression and outlet for those types of issues.  

ABA selects a target behavior or group of target behaviors and focuses on implementing environmental interventions to increase and sustain changes in positive behavior and decrease and sustain changes in the negative behaviors. This method is great for kids with significant skill deficits and significant behavioral excesses.

Parents should take age into consideration when deciding what type of therapy to choose. For younger children, play therapy or ABA-based may be the best choice. If your child is insightful and has considerable verbal skills, then cognitive behavioral therapy might provide the most benefit. Then, ask yourself how serious are the behavioral issues. If there seems a reasonable cause for having difficulty adjusting to something, then play or CBT may be more appropriate. If, however, there are a lot of excesses and deficiencies, then behavioral therapy is going to be the most effective choice.

There are, obviously, various options when it comes to choosing the appropriate therapy for your child, including a combination of those discussed. For example, some parents consult with Dr. Boney to learn behavioral options while their child is also involved with play therapy or CBT.  

Utilizing evidence-based practices and the scientific principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, the Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services team provides assessment, treatment, and consultation for a wide range of behavioral issues. We work with a variety of children, families, schools, hospitals, mental health agencies, and local community organizations to provide these services.  If you have any questions about what type of therapy would be most effective for your child or would like more information about any of the services offered by our team, please feel free to contact us by phone at 480.410.4040, email us at, or click here for our convenient online form.

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