Getting Treatment for a Child or Adolescent

When a child or adolescent has a mental illness it is important that you access treatment. It is recommended that you make an appointment with a child/adolescent mental health practitioner for a diagnostic evaluation. The practitioner can assist you in formulating a treatment plan as well as advise and direct you to other appropriate mental health professionals if necessary.

Who can treat a child or adolescent?

  • There are a variety of trained professionals that can help your child. You can consult with a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or psychiatric nurse.
  • Irrespective of whom you choose they should be trained and qualified to handle mental illnesses in children and adolescents.

How can a mental health practitioner be located?

You should speak to healthcare professionals that you trust and who are familiar with your child to receive a trustworthy and informed referral (e.g., pediatrician, guidance counselor).

You can also telephone the American Psychological Association, at 202-336-5500, or the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at 202-966-7300, for a referral, or you can telephone any other professional affiliation.

Once you have located a mental health professional you should investigate their qualifications, ensure that they are properly licensed and qualified, as well as ensure that they belong to their respective professional associations.

What should I expect once an appointment has been made?

  • The practitioner will take a full history of your child and the problem. They will speak with both you and your child alone.
  • When speaking with the practitioner you should be as specific as possible with regard to a description of the symptoms.
  • You and your child may be asked to fill out self-report inventories (i.e., Achenbach Child Behavior Checklist).
  • The practitioner may request school records or request to speak with your child’s teacher.

What types of treatment are available?

It is important to determine what, if any particular approach the practitioner you are considering utilizes. Some have a medication-only approach, others have a psychoanalytic or behavioral approach, while others have a combination approach. If you have a preference, you should ask the practitioner about their approach to treatment.

Often times behavioral treatment may be necessary. Depending on the practitioner’s specialty they may refer parents to another professional for this component of the treatment or handle it themselves.

What should I make sure I know about my child or adolescent’s treatment?

You should get a full explanation of the recommended treatment, what it entails, and how it will proceed. You should also be informed as to treatment goals, short and long-term, and how long the treatment is expected to be in place. You should expect to be an integral component of the treatment process.

You are often one of the most important elements in the treatment process be it through medication monitoring or implementing behavioral strategies. You may also consider seeking individual or group counseling to assist you in dealing with the difficulties of having a child with a psychiatric illness.

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