What are signs that my child needs help? If your child shows any of the following symptoms, seeing a therapist may
help. Talk to your doctor first.
behavioral problems (unusually angry or withdrawn, etc.)
drop in grades
changes in sleeping or eating patterns
doesn't enjoy usual activities
angry behavior (bullying, biting, etc.)
aches and pains that have no medical cause
mood swings (going from happy to sad very fast)
What are the different types?
There are four main types of therapists who can help your child with a mental
health problem. Each group must meet certain standards and update their training
Medical doctor. Can prescribe medicine.
4 years of training at a hospital.
1 year of training in general medicine.
3 years of training in psychiatry.
May specialize in a specific area, such as mood disorders.
A psychologist has a college degree and special training in psychology.
4 years of special training in psychology - doctorate degree.
1 year special training in a hospital or clinic
Not a medical doctor. Cannot prescribe medicine.
Uses various forms of psychotherapy. See strategies
May specialize in a specific area (such as a school psychologist).
A psychiatric nurse has a college degree in nursing and special training
A clinical nurse specialist has a college degree in nursing and a master's
degree in psychiatric and mental health.
Clinical nurses can provide psychotherapy. Some are certified to prescribe
A social worker has a college degree and is trained in social work.
Not a medical doctor. Cannot prescribe medicine.
May use psychotherapy. (Not all are licensed to use psychotherapy. Check.)
May specialize in a specific area. For example, may work in a hospital,
school, or private agency.
How do I choose one?
Start looking as soon as you notice that your child may need help.
Get suggestions from your doctor, family, or friends.
Set up an appointment or phone interview.
Choose a therapist that both you and your child like.
Make sure the therapist is licensed and has a degree in psychology, social
work, or psychiatry.
Ask how much he/she charges.
Talk about what the therapist will do to help the child.
What questions should I ask?
Is he/she licensed in the state?
What is his/her degree in?
Is he/she covered by your health insurance plan? How many appointments?
Does he/she have experience working with children?
Can he/she prescribe medication if needed?
What if your child needs help after office hours?
Who is the therapist's substitute?
What strategies does he/she typically use?
Will he/she be willing to set up a face-to-face meeting with the child and
How do I prepare my child?
Explain that your child will not be given any shots or have an exam. At
the visit, he may just talk or play games.
The child does not have to talk about anything he doesn't want to.
Explain to your child that the doctor will help him feel better. Just as
he would need to go to the doctor for a problem with his arm, he needs to
go to the doctor for problems with how he is feeling. It does not mean that
Your child does not have to tell other people about the therapist. He can
if he wants to.
Explain that the things he talks about with the therapist are confidential.
The therapist can't tell anyone (unless the child talks about hurting himself
Explain that he will probably need to visit the therapist more than once.
What happens during a visit?
The therapist will probably talk to the child and parents together at the
first visit. This will help him/her get an idea of what the problem is.
Next, the therapist may talk to the child alone or to the parents alone.
The therapist may ask your child to write in a journal about how he feels
Treatment is different for each child. How many times he sees the therapist
and what happens at the appointments depends on his needs.
What strategies might be used? There are many strategies. The therapist will use the ones that are best
for your child. They may include:
Relaxation training: Teaching children how to relax their bodies and clear
Stress management: Teaching your child how to avoid and deal with stress.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Most often used with children at least 12
years old who have problems dealing with stress. Also used to treat depression
Individual Therapy: Therapist works with child one-on-one.
Family Therapy: Often used when the family is having problems together.
Everyone is involved in treatment.
What can parents do to help?
Prepare your child for his first visit.
Talk to your child. Be a good listener.
Show you care. Spend time with him.
Ask other family members, friends, teachers, etc. to give your child support.
Set a good example. Show your child good ways to deal with stress. Be healthy.
Plan regular family meetings to talk about both good and bad things that
Set limits. When rules are broken, calmly follow through with fair and consistent
Stay up-to-date on your child's health by talking to the therapist.
Be open to suggestions about what you can do to help.
Show interest in your child's interests, hobbies, and opinions.
Therapists help people deal with their feelings and emotions.
Children might go to the therapist for learning disabilities, depression,
eating disorders, or life changes.
Your child may need to see a therapist is he has behavioral problems, changes
in sleeping or eating patterns, if he avoids people, or if he stops doing
There are four main types of therapists. They are psychiatrists, psychologists,
nurses, and social workers.
Choose a therapist who is licensed, has a degree in mental health, and that
you and your child both like.
Interview the therapist.
Explain to your child what a therapist is. He/she will help the child talk
about his feelings and will not give him an exam or any shots.
Treatment is different for each child. The therapist will use the strategy
that he/she believes is best for your child.
The therapist might use relaxation training, teach your child stress management,
cognitive behavioral therapy, individual therapy, or family therapy.
Parents can help by providing love and support. Show your child you care.
Lyness D. Going to a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, or Therapist. KidsHealth.
2001 November (cited 2002 April 19). URL: http://www.kidshealth.org/PageManager.jsp?dn=KidsHealth&lic=1&ps=307&cat_id=110&article_set=22513
MayoClinic. Who Provides Mental Health Care? 2001 January 16 (cited 2002
April 19). URL: http://www.mayoclinic.com/takecharge/self_manager/invoke.cfm?objectid=44F08529-935B-43A6-87FC1C5E6FCF1EE3&printpage=trye
Miller, Deborah. Finding a Therapist for Your Child's Emotional or Behavioral
Problem. KidsHealth. 2000 August (cited 2002 April 19). URL: http://www.kidshealth.org/PageManager.jsp?dn=KidsHealth&lic=1&ps=107&cat_id=168&article_set=22096
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