How To Get Started
Parents and caregivers may find it difficult to talk about getting help for a mental health problem their child might be having. It might help you to think about your child’s mental health issues like their physical health issues. If your child was sick, you would make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician and give the information necessary to help the nurses and doctors find out your child’s problems and give the right treatment. When talking to your child’s pediatrician or mental health professional about your child’s mental health concerns, it is best to start by talking about what your worries and concerns are and how your child’s problems affect his/her day-to-day life.
You may be asked many questions about the types of issues/problems your child is having and whether or not they are affecting his/her behavior at home or at school, sleeping patterns and eating patterns and relationships with others. When talking to a mental health professional, often by phone, you will be asked a number of questions often called an “intake questionnaire.” During intake, you will be asked information such as your child’s date of birth, developmental history, past experience with mental health providers, and any physical issues or impairments that might affect their lives. Often times, this first contact is not done by a mental health professional but by a nurse or office staff, just like when you call your doctor and speak with a nurse or office staff.
After intake, which is usually done by phone or sometimes in person, you will usually make your first appointment for you and your child to see the mental health professional.
A typical first consultation involves meeting with the clinician (mental health professional) that will be working with your child/family. During this first meeting, the clinician may ask a lot of the same questions that you have already answered on the phone as well as go into more detail about your family history, your child’s developmental history and the nature of the problem. Sometimes, in these first meetings it can be frustrating for parents or caregivers because you may feel like you are answering the same questions many times. Try to be patient because in order to give your child the best help, mental health professionals need to be sure they have a complete understanding of your child’s issues and concerns. It is best for you to actively participate in the consultation in order to provide information about your child. Depending upon the circumstances, some information will be collected with you alone, and in others you may be asked to participate with your child. During this time you may also be asked to fill out certain releases of information and other forms needed for the clinician to obtain the needed information and history about your child. It is important to remember that you are the best expert on your child and know the most about your child. Therefore, you should be very involved in your child’s treatment process.
It is always okay to ask questions, to ask about the clinician’s experience, to ask how they have handled some of the same issues, or to ask to be more involved in your child’s treatment. Mental health treatment with children should almost always involve active participation from parents and caregivers. It should not be a mystery what goes on in the treatment room with your child. You should feel free to ask any questions or to voice any concerns that you may have about the treatment.
Evaluation and Treatment:
The first few meetings with a mental health professional usually involve an evaluation. The evaluation period may involve the use of screening and assessment measures (tools) to help your clinician better understand the nature of your child’s problems. Also during this phase of treatment, your clinician will ask you and your child a lot of questions, try to come to a better understanding of the concerns from your child’s perspective and begin to identify major goals for the treatment process. This evaluation should help in the development of a “treatment plan” in which you and your child should actively participate. Ideally, the clinician should help you identify the goals that you have for your child as well as help your child name the issues/concerns they want to work on and set these as goals for your child’s treatment. Progress towards these goals should be measured from time-to-time, and your clinician should check in with you to inform you of how your child is doing towards his/her goals. Goals should be monitored and changed if needed, depending upon the needs of your child.
From birth to adolescence, your child has different mental health needs and concerns and therefore, their experience and your experience of mental health treatment will be different. The younger the child, the more you will be involved in their treatment. For children ages 0-6, parents and caregivers almost always participate in their child’s treatment in some way. For very young children, parents and children often participate in “dyadic” treatment which is when the parent and child participate together in treatment. As your child grows older and becomes more independent, you may be less involved in your child’s treatment. If some of your child’s concerns result from family issues, your child may desire a confidential place to talk about their worries away from their parents, caregivers and other family members. Even in these situations, your involvement is important and there will be times when you will need to take part in your child’s treatment. Teenagers often need even more independence and may not want you to be as involved in their treatment. Clinicians usually do their best to respect teenagers’ wishes while knowing that parents and caregivers need to be involved and be made aware of their child’s issues/concerns/progress and treatment. For other types of treatment, like family treatment or home-based services or certain services that require the parent and caregiver to take part, you may be asked to be very involved in each session in every step of your child’s treatment. Your involvement will depend upon your child’s issues and concerns, the type of treatment he/she is receiving and the goals of that treatment.
Some forms of treatment will ask that you and your child participate in some screening and/or assessment which is designed to identify the types of difficulties your child is having as well as be used as a starting place (baseline) to measure your child’s progress through treatment. Sometimes in the first sessions when your child is screened for anxiety, depression, ADHD or behavioral health disorders, your clinician may find issues and concerns of which you may not be aware.