When a child has a fever, parents often know instinctively when they need to seek out a doctor’s advice. But when you're concerned about your child's psychological or emotional wellbeing, it’s not always easy to know when you need professional help. The Child Study Center, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, can help you figure out the answer.
All children go through ups and downs, but if you see a sudden change in your child's mood or behavior, if he or she is struggling in school, is having difficulty with social or family relationships, feels depressed, anxious, angry, or aggressive, your child may be dealing with a mental health problem.
If you're unsure about whether to get professional help, or how to find it, start by speaking with other people in your child's life, such as a family member, teacher, or pediatrician. If the problem persists and others are also concerned, a consultation with a mental health professional may be helpful.
Choosing a Mental Health Professional
There are several types of mental health professionals who help children. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe medication in addition to providing other therapies.
Psychologists conduct psychological testing and provide therapy. Other types of mental health professionals include social workers, licensed mental health counselors, marriage and family counselors, and pastoral counselors.
When selecting a mental health professional, it is important to consider the person’s professional training, credentials, areas of expertise, and experience. But it’s also important that both you and your child feel comfortable with the therapist. Having confidence in the person you select to treat your child is essential to establishing a positive working relationship and important when facing difficult moments or decisions.
Parents often benefit from an initial consultation or one or two sessions with and without the child before making a decision about ongoing treatment. Successful therapy usually requires an investment of time and energy on the part of the professional, parents, and child.
The therapist may act as a guide, instructor, cheerleader, sounding board, or confidante. The parents and child, however, must also participate and take responsibility for putting what is learned into practice. Treatment is most successful when everyone involved helps monitor change and progress.