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  • Last week we talked about how to spot the warning signs of mental health issues in children and adolescents. This week, we’ll address how to go about finding the mental health professional that can best help.

    One in six children in the U.S. between six and seventeen years old have a treatable mental health issue such as Depression, Anxiety, or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), so understand that you are not alone - there are many parents and caregivers looking for help for a child or adolescent in their lives.

    But where to start? There are a bewildering array of specialists who can help. To help you sift through the wide-range of information out there, we’ve provided a list of the different types of professionals who can diagnose and treat your child, as well as questions to ask those providers during your search.

    Getting Started

    For most parents and caregivers, consulting your family or child’s physician can be a good first step. The benefit to starting with someone who knows your child is that they may be able to confirm or recognize when behavior is beyond the typical range. They can also conduct medical testing to rule out possible non-psychiatric causes for the symptoms you’ve noticed.

    The disadvantage is that family physicians or pediatricians may have limited experience in diagnosing psychiatric and developmental disorders; or may not have the proper time to allocate for lengthy assessments often required for accurate diagnosis. Best practices in diagnosing children and adolescents include using rating scales to get an objective take on symptoms, as well as collecting information from multiple sources, including the child, caregivers, teachers, or other adults in their lives. Other types of mental health professionals may be better able to assess and treat your child.

    Understanding The Different Types Of Mental Health Professionals

    Most professionals who diagnose and treat mental health issues in children and adolescents have at least a master's degree or more advanced education, training and credentials. Below you'll find some of the most common types of providers.

    • Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist: A medical doctor with specialized training in general psychiatry, psychiatric diagnosis and treatment in young people; able to diagnose the full range of psychiatric disorders recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM); fully qualified if they have completed national examinations that make them board-certified in child and adolescent psychiatry as well as general psychiatry; can prescribe medication.

    • Psychopharmacologist: A medical doctor who specializes in the use of medications in order to affect feelings, cognition, and behavior. Although they specialize in the use of medications, they should know when other kinds of therapy should be integrated with medication into the treatment plan and be able to refer patients to other professionals for that therapy.

    • Child Psychologist: Trained to diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders, but are not medical doctors so cannot prescribe medication; have a doctoral level degree and may hold either a PhD or a PsyD; often work together with psychiatrists to provide care to patients who benefit from a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy; can coordinate necessary evaluations and assessments.

    • Neuropsychologist: Psychologists who specialize in the functioning of the brain and how it relates to behavior and cognitive ability; have completed post-doctoral training in neuropsychology with either a PhD or a PsyD. They perform neuropsychological assessments, which measure a child’s strengths and weaknesses over a broad range of cognitive tasks, and provide results in a report which forms the basis for developing a treatment plan.

    • Pediatric Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner: Has either a master’s or a doctorate, and can prescribe medication depending on the state; has training in treating and monitoring children and adolescents with psychiatric disorders; may work as part of a team in a pediatricians’ office, or practice independently.

    • School Psychologist: Trained in psychology and education and may receive a Specialist in School Psychology (SSP) degree; can identify learning and behavior problems, and evaluate students for special education services.

    • Social Worker: A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) has a master’s degree in social work and is licensed by state agencies; required to have significant supervised training; does not prescribe medication, but may work with the family and treating physician or psychiatrist to coordinate care. 

    Questions To Ask Prospective Mental Health Specialists

    It's especially important to look for a child or adolescent mental health professional who has the right background and experience to treat the specific issues your child is exhibiting. Arming yourself with the knowledge to be able to ask the right questions and know what to look for in a professional will help you feel more confident that you are getting a specialist that's right for your child. 

    Ask the following questions when meeting with prospective treatment providers:

    • Tell me about your professional training?

    • Are you licensed, or board-certified, and if so, in what discipline?

    • How much experience do you have diagnosing children whose behaviors are similar to my child?

    • How do you arrive at a diagnosis? What evidence do you use?

    • Do you provide the treatments you recommend, or do you refer to others?

    • How will you involve the family in the treatment?

    • Will you be in contact with my child’s teacher or guidance counselor?

    • How long do children usually stay in treatment with you?

    • What are your thoughts about medication?

    • Can I speak with a parent whose child has worked with you?

    Looking For A Qualified Mental Health Specialist For Your Child Or Adolescent?

    Telemynd is a nationally delegated telebehavioral health provider. You can access licensed psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and therapists – all the specialists discussed above – who can evaluate, diagnose and provide treatment for mental health issues in children and adolescents from the convenience of home. Find your current insurance provider to request an appointment today.


    National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Children and Mental Health
    American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Family Resources


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