Mental Health Care for Children in Need

Amanda, a 4-year-old girl, sits on the floor in front of a dollhouse in a therapist’s office. But she won’t start playing until the lights are switched off and she’s protected by the cover of darkness. Then, instead of playing make-believe like other children her age, Amanda forces her dolls to hit each other, and scream and cry.

Amanda is recreating her family dynamic in the only way she knows how — through play — as part of the early childhood mental health care she is receiving.

At first, the idea that such a young child could benefit from mental health services might seem puzzling, even counterintuitive. How can we expect a preschooler, especially one under age 5, to “get on the couch” and discuss her problems with a therapist? Why would she be able to talk about her troubled childhood when she has barely lived it?

Yet early childhood mental health services do exist, and they are increasingly seen as a vital and effective part of supporting the emotional development of troubled children.

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