Therapy for Children, Adolescents, and Families
Specializing in ADHD, gifted, learning disabilities
Because of my life-long interest in children and families, I began my career by working in a community mental health agency, providing individual and group therapy for children and adolescents. As I worked with these kids, my interest in the testing process grew, and I began administering psychological evaluations, later moving into the position of Coordinator for the Assessment Program at Dede Wallace Mental Health Center. I then spent several years working in private practice, under the supervision of a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. In that setting, I learned a tremendous amount about play therapy, as well as various approaches to therapy with older children and adolescents. I have spent the last thirteen years administering psycho-educational evaluations to children and teenagers in a private setting. Regarding my knowledge of educational issues, I have experience working with all kinds of students, especially those with learning disabilities and attention difficulties, and I have come to understand and appreciate the vast differences in how students learn.
I received my undergraduate degree in Psychology and French from Vanderbilt University in 1986. I went on to earn my Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from Middle Tennessee State University in 1991. I received my license as a Psychological Examiner in Tennessee in 1992.
As a therapist at Counseling Associates, I work with children and adolescents who are experiencing learning difficulties, attention problems, depression, anxiety, or situational stress and adjustment, among other issues. Children of different ages benefit from different types of therapy. Very young children are usually not able to identify or verbalize their feelings well so they benefit from play therapy. Play therapy involves interacting with the child during play activities and observing behaviors and emotions that are manifested in that play, recognizing that children often act out their feelings rather than talking out their feelings. Sometimes their behavior can be viewed almost as an alternate language, revealing the things they are enthusiastic about as well as revealing their distress. By realizing that children actually want to communicate, even when it appears that they want to push people away, it becomes possible to better establish a connection with the children. As children become older, they respond to other approaches. For example, children and adolescents are usually willing and able to talk directly about their feelings so I can help them process those feelings in a more direct fashion.
Regardless of what approach is most beneficial for a child or adolescent, the length of therapy varies, depending on a child’s age and personality plus the intensity of symptoms that led to seeking therapy. In addition, I work with the parents as a way of further understanding the child, as well as providing support, education, and resources to the parent.
In addition to providing therapy, I provide a variety of assessments, including the evaluation of cognitive skills and academic achievement skills. Some people want information regarding whether or not their children are gifted. Sometimes parents want information about their children’s preferred style of learning. Most children enjoy the assessment process, in which the pace of the testing is done at the child’s preferred rate. I also assess learning disorders/differences and significant attention disorders. Children who have learning disorders/differences or who have attention disorders often get frustrated in school and struggle to use their strengths effectively. The purpose of identifying their weaknesses is so they can receive the most appropriate teaching or tutoring, which will allow them to reach their potential and tolerate (or even possibly enjoy) the process of learning. The purpose of identifying their strengths is to have the necessary basis for helping them build on those strengths (sometimes figuring out ways to work around stubborn weaknesses that are difficult to resolve more directly).
Based on my experience working with students who have significant attention difficulties, I also provide the unique service of “ADHD coaching.” With this service, I act as a “coach” or guide for students who struggle with concentration and focusing, organization, setting short-term and long-term goals, and generally just “keeping it all together.” I teach study skills and various strategies to help students be as successful as possible in school and in daily functioning. For those students who struggle socially, I provide social skills training. I also provide parent support, education, and guidance regarding ADHD/ADD.
I enjoy working with children so much that I have dedicated my career to helping them to be their best, to be as successful as possible, and to feel comfortable with who they are. Children and adolescents (as well as adults) are more likely to make changes when they feel comfortable with who they are. In contrast, people are less likely to make changes when they feel criticized, feel weird in some way, or feel dissatisfied with themselves. It is my job to help children and families recognize their positive patterns so they can more effectively develop foundational interactional and academic skills. In addition, I provide the guidance necessary for people to fine-tune the skills they already possess.
In all of my work, I strive to provide the highest quality services available. Please feel free to call me, Leah Hawkins, at 615-298-2329 with further questions or to schedule an appointment.