Child & Family Psychologist Services

So just what does a child psychologist do, anyway?

kinderWell, a child psychologist is someone with specialized training that enables them to work with children of various ages and knows that kids are NOT just “small adults.” It takes different skills to work effectively with children than it does to work with adults and, while a skilled child psychologist can “trade up” and apply many of the same therapeutic techniques in successfully working with adults, the same cannot be said for clinicians who are trained just to work with adults. You cannot apply the same techniques used with adults and expect those techniques to work with kids, especially young kids, although some of the techniques may work with older teenagers. Basically, a child psychologist is a clinician who believes:

It Is Wiser To Build Strong Children Than Simply Repair Injured Adults.* is part of Vista Health Services, Inc. Vista is a private behavioral healthcare and psychological services practice focusing on the issues that affect children, adolescents and their families – including adults – and we consult with the people and institutions with whom they interact. This includes schools, colleges, Courts, governmental organizations and other health care and social service providers and agencies. A specialized area of practice is parenting young children and we can provide services to children as young as 7 months of age.

What differentiates us is that our approach to clinical, behavioral and therapeutic services takes a life-span developmental approach, is (w)holistic, family-oriented, and based on positive psychology. Because of our life-span developmental training and approach, we can also provide treatment services to adults and seniors, not just children.

Childhood is often not an easy time for children or parents. Even the strongest of families can experience stress, academic concerns or family problems which can combine to impact a child’s  teenager’s or adult’s ability to cope and many problems that children experience can be beyond a parent’s ability to remedy without professional help.

Consciously raising kids while balancing the demands of life, work and family relationships is challenging, rigorous, sometimes hilarious, frequently joyful and often puzzling. Our goal is to help parents and others involved in the lives of children understand what influences and drives behavior and learn what may work to increase more positive behavior and reduce problematic behavior.

Some of these problems include attention and organizational problems, separation, divorce and custody issues, disruptive behavior disorders, academic and school problems, bladder and bowel incontinence, bullying, trauma and other conditions. When addressing child and adolescent issues, the family is often a necessary part of the treatment process. With older children, of course, the family’s involvement becomes more limited.

We do this most commonly by providing psychological assessments, clinical behavioral services and professional education to parents, school and medical personnel and other agencies interacting with children and families. We address all the common and even some not-so-common problem behaviors and psychological issues. Some of the tools we employ in addressing issues include:


We treat a wide variety of child and adolescents problems, including very young children, with medical issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems and chronic pain; adolescents with Eating Disorders and Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) and Self-Injurious Behaviors (SIB); and children and adolescents with special needs, including complex mental and emotional syndromes such as Prader-Willi, Autism/PDD, dual diagnosed Mental Retardation and Psychological Problems. We also have specialized knowledge about Verbal and Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities and Special Education issues and Individualized Education Plans, and transitional difficuties often faced by adolescents going to college, adults transitioning to assisted living facilities, rehab or other settings or who may have cognitive declines, competency or self-care issues while still living at home with their families.

A solid and effective treatment plan begins with an appropriate diagnostic assessment. Such assessments include academic, psychological and neuropsychological testing and assessments. Some examples of how psychological assessments can be of help include:

Academic and School Applications

  • ADHD, LD & NLD evaluations.
  • Evaluations for 504 and Chapter 766/Special Education.
  • Second opinions about parent-school conflicts or behavior issues.
  • Developmental Disabilities, such as birth defects, Autism and PDD.
  • Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBAs).

Health and Disability Issues

  • Evaluations under the Americans with Disability Act.
  • Second opinions regarding psychological and psychiatric standard of care.
  • Parental or Child Disability and Worker’s Compensation evaluations.
  • Consultative Evaluations (CEs) for Social Security Disability Insurance claims.

Family and Law Conflicts

  • Delinquency and reckless behavior.
  • Guardianship & Competency of minors and seniors.
    Parenting evaluations and consultations.
  • Divorce issues, including high conflict and post-divorce disputes.
  • Custody/GAL and visitation issues.
  • Abuse, neglect and physical maltreatment.
  • Foster care and adoption.

Psychological Effects of Physical Violations or Injury

  • Direct Trauma Diagnosis and Remediation.
  • The effects of indirect (vicarious or bystander) trauma and abuse on children.
  • Psychological damage in children caused by medical procedures or toxicity.


Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology & Therapy

There are many types of therapy, commonly called “counseling” or “psychotherapy.” But not all psychologically based therapy is equally effective when dealing with psychological issues – and anyone can be called a “therapist,” whether licensed or not.  Be sure that any psychological theray is done by a licensed clinician – and there are many to chose from, including Psychologists, Social Workers, Licensed Mental Health Counselors to name but a few.

There are also many types of therapy, commonly called “counseling” or “psychotherapy.” But not all psychologically based therapy is equally effective when dealing with psychological issues. Among the types of therapy we specialize in is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). That is, the therapy focuses on what individuals think – that’s the ‘cognitive’, or intellectual part – and how individuals behave. Thinking influences behavior and vice-versa. CBT is suitable for a wide variety of issues and is easily adapted to developmental and environmental needs.


Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy is a type of CBT that focuses on the rapid change of self-defeating or otherwise troubling and unhelpful thinking that may cause individuals to remain feeling trapped and helpless in the face of life’s difficulties. REBT is quite effective in teaching individuals to become more objective in identifying,  understanding, solving and also testing solutions to problems which then can lead to improved life functioning and an improved emotional life.

ADHD Information and Clinics

We provide quick, focused, accurate and helpful assessments of attention, memory and cognition. These are especially useful in assessing ADHD and similar or copycat executive functions. Our ADHD Clinics can be arranged by sponsoring organizations or may be arranged by appointmnet at our office. Please call our office for more information.

Learning Disabilities (LD) Assessment and Remediation

Learning Disabilities are found in people of any age, occupation or skill level. Even geniuses can have a learning disability – or more than one. Typically, a learning disability goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for many years, first coming to light in high school, college or even several years into a career. It’s likely that the LD was always present in the individual, but rather was overlooked or ignored due to the individual’s ability to hide it,  use other skills or abilities to compensate for it, or it was misunderstood as being something else.

Behavioral or emotional reactions to LD issues typically develop – especially in school-aged children – and it is often those behavioral or emotional reactions which may draw attention while the underlying LD is missed. This is especially true with Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities (NVLD), which are quite often misunderstood and not even evaluated during the school years, but which very often can appear as social skills deficits, failure to adapt, and inflexibility which may also bring someone with NVLD into conflict with authority figures such as school personnel, job supervisors or the police.

HIPPO Therapy

No, this does NOT involve real Hippos – although that WOULD be awesome if it did – but HIPPO Therapy does involve horses. Why isn’t it just called Horse therapy? Well, I guess we’ll never know*, but sometimes it’s called Equine Therapy. Working with horses is often an incredible learning and calming experience for individuals with developmental limitations, medical problems behavioral problems and conditions such as Autism, Downe Syndrome, Mental Retardation, shyness, poor self concept and other issues. Our classes take place at Diamonds Edge Farm in West Barnstable under the supervision of a licensed psychologist and also with an Equine Therapist. The horses are experienced with a wide variety of riders and have also been conditioned for riding and appearing in parades, public appearances and Special Education riding competitions. Additional times may be scheduled at the Farm outside of class time.

>>> *Well, I guess now we do know. Since this was originally written, one of our teen-aged students recently informed us, with a kindly but patronizing smile, that “It’s called Hippo Therapy because you’re using large animals for therapy.”   OK: Got it!

Performance Anxiety (Stage Fright) Coaching – For young performers, musicians and public speakers.

Children are singing, dancing, acting and playing music at increasingly younger ages.  Students are routinely expected to speak up in class and failure to do so may result in a lowered grade for lack of class participation. High school and even middle school students are now called on to give oral presentations to their peers. College students – and certainly their parents – may be expected to make full multi-modal presentations, including Power Point, to enhance their college or business career. However, the same bold and self-confident child or adult at home may be quite reluctant  – or even terrified – to perform in front of strangers. Stage Fright is quite common and shouldn’t be allowed to stop a child, adolescent or adult from pursuing their goals.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was discovered by Francine Shapiro, a psychologist in California who worked with trauma and trauma survivors.  It is a so-called “power therapy” that has been especially helpful to individuals dealing with anxiety, panic and trauma issues. Our staff is proficient in the use of EMDR with children, adolescents and adults. Dr. Abruzzese was trained by Dr. Shapiro herself and was also a specialized trainer with Dr. Shapiro and her associates for many years.

Play Therapy

The work of childhood is play. Quite often. the best therapeutic approach with children, especially very young children, is play therapy. Play therapy differs from standard psychotherapy procedures in that therapeutic play is the central therapeutic approach, not “talking” therapy. Sometimes parents can get frustrated with the seemingly slow pace of play therapy, but make no mistake: important work is being done by children in this specialized treatment modality.

A Few Words About Confidentiality

In virtually ALL cases, information concerning treatment and assessments is considered confidential, requiring written permission of the patient/client/legal guardian before any clinical, health or linked Personally Identifiable Information (PII) can be revealed to third parties, including insurance companies, schools or other health professionals. Suspicions of sexual or physical abuse, suicidal or homicidal or other dangerous intent or behaviors; or the receipt of an appropriate and valid Court Order are traditionally not covered by laws and customs mandating confidentiality and the law requires reporting such events to the appropriate agencies irrespective of client/patient permission. Limits of confidentiality are discussed during the first visit.

Disclaimer of Clinical Advice and Therapeutic Relationship

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* The actual quote, credited to Frederick Douglass, is: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Copyright 2009-2015 by Vista Health Services, Inc.