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A Road Map to Children’s Mental Health Services

June 30, 2020

A guide for parents and caregivers about the types of providers a child might need to see, what those providers can help with, and where to begin.

Counseling Clinic

By Paula Miller
Day Treatment

Everyone has struggles getting along together as a family. But this? This is different. Your child is defiant and sometimes even out of control. They won’t tell you what is wrong. Or maybe, they don’t want to get out of bed. Getting them to go to school is nearly impossible. They don’t want to take a shower and they wear the same clothes for days. As a parent, you’re worried. You aren’t sure what to do, but you know that something needs to be done. The question is, who can help?

When a child is showing signs of mental or behavioral health issues, it can be confusing to try and figure out who the child needs to see. Your search for services may uncover several local providers – each with different titles, and each with their own expertise. It can be hard to know which one is the right one to help your child and your family.

To help take out some of the guesswork, we’ve put together a road map of four types of mental health providers and what they can help with:

Therapist or Counselor: Individual or family appointments are attended at this person’s office (called outpatient sessions). Clients can see them weekly, bi-weekly, or more or less often depending upon need. This person is not a doctor and does not prescribe medications.

Psychologist: Is a doctor in the sense that they are a PhD in their field which involves extensive education. That’s where the title “Dr.” comes from. If they have PhD at the end of their name they are this kind of doctor. They do not prescribe medications. Some provide counseling sessions while others do evaluations which involve intensive testing to determine a more precise diagnosis for your child.

Psychiatrist: This is the medical doctor and has M.D. at the end of their name. They can prescribe medications. Appointments with them are usually to get the basic information about what has been going on and then deciding if medications are a good choice for your child. They go over the effects of the medication and any possible side effects. After the initial appointment you return to give updates to the doctor and discuss how the medication is working. They do not do counseling sessions.

Nurse Prescriber: Many people think that this person is a doctor because they prescribe medications. This is a registered nurse who has special training and licensing to be able to prescribe medications. Many people go to a nurse prescriber because it is easier to get in for an appointment with them than it is to get in with a psychiatrist.

If you are concerned about your child’s behavior, of the most important things to remember is don’t wait. The way mental health is set up, you have a starting point with a therapist and then you progress from there. If behaviors have been going on for a while don’t hesitate to make that first appointment and talk to someone. If problems and behaviors continue, consider seeing a psychiatrist. You will need a referral from your child’s primary care physician. Getting in for an appointment can take months, so it is important to set this up as soon as you think you need to.

Parents sometimes delay getting help for their child until things are serious enough that they are causing terrible disruption in the family. These families may be desperate to get their child into a more intensive type of service such as Day Treatment, only to find out that their insurances require that less intensive services such as outpatient therapy be tried first. That is why it’s important to get started with a counselor or therapist right away.

The Counseling Clinic at Family Services is currently taking appointments for virtual, outpatient therapy sessions and can be reached at 920-436-6800. Sometimes parents hesitate because there is still stigma attached to mental health services, but please don’t be afraid to reach out. That’s what therapists are there for and they want to help.

If your child and family have already tried less intensive services, but are still struggling, then our Day Treatment program may be a good fit. Day Treatment can help your child learn how to manage their emotions and develop responsible thinking while participating in intensive group therapy for issues such as trauma, family problems, or abuse. Call 920-433-3372 ext.100 to get the intake process started with a phone interview. There is currently no wait list for adolescents ages 14-18 years old. We look forward to talking to you!

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