When Does My Child Need a Therapist?
Every kid has moodiness, friend troubles, academic struggles, and thanks to shutdown, mental health issues stemming from isolation. So, how do you know if your child is dealing with something more serious than normal?
In most cases, if you offer support, sensitivity, and patience to your child as they struggle with their volatile emotions, they will figure it out.
However, what seems like a normal childhood difficulty can often turn into something more serious.
Pediatric psychologist Kristen Eastman, PsyD explains what to look for if you feel your child might need professional help: If your child….
- Has problems in multiple areas of life, such as family relationships, academic performance, leisure activities and friendships.
- Makes comments like “I wish I weren’t here,” or “Nobody would care if I ran away.”
- Has repetitive, self-destructive behaviors such as hair-pulling or skin-picking.
- Starts feeling bad about themselves, less confident or less effective.
- Withdraws from family, friends or activities they used to enjoy.
- Has a significant change in sleep or appetite.
- Shows excessive worry about the future.
- Engages in negative behavior more frequently.
- Talks about or engages in any kind of self-harm.
- Talks explicitly about suicide.
- Expresses hopelessness.
- Shows defiant behaviors.
- Shows a sudden shift in unusual interests and habits.
- Shows regressitve behavior (bedwetting, temper tantrums, separation anxiety).
Dr. Eastman also suggests that parents trust their instincts. “You know your child best. If something just doesn’t feel right, trust that instinct. It’s better to go and get something checked out if you’re not sure.”
How do I Find Help for My Child?
Once you have made the decision to get outside help for your child’s mental health, it can feel overwhelming to try to find the right choice. There are all sorts of mental health professionals who can help your child. First, let’s differentiate between a therapist, psychologist, and psychiatrist.
Therapist. Children’s therapists have a Master’s degree in a mental health field like social work, marriage and family therapy, or mental health counseling. They have attended a specialized 2 or 3 year graduate school program after college, as well as time being supervised by another professional before they are allowed to practice therapy on their own.
A therapist helps a child work through hard situations, managing their feelings, and learning to communicate better in their families. Therapists usually are more practical and focused on problem-solving. They can diagnose and treat mental health problems, but cannot prescribe medication. They may not be the best choice if you need a diagnosis for an IEP or other school programs.
Psychologist. A child psychologist has a doctoral degree, which means they have spent about 5-6 years studying different aspects of psychology. If a child needs emotional support, a listening ear, and help managing overwhelming feelings, a therapist or psychologist are both good choices. Both therapists and psychologists have similar training in how to provide this kind of counseling.
However, psychologists can conduct many tests that therapists can’t, in order to help diagnose mental health and learning problems such as ADHD, autism, and learning disabilities. Psychologists are not medical doctors, which means that they can’t prescribe medication for your child.
Psychiatrist. Like other medical doctors, psychiatrists attend school for 7 or more years. They are trained in biology and chemistry as well as psychology in order to understand how medications affect the brain. Psychiatrists are the only mental health professionals who can prescribe medication. In some situations, a nurse practitioner or family doctor may be able to write prescriptions for your child, but usually, this is a child psychiatrist’s job.
Most child psychiatrists see kids only occasionally and manage the medication part of a child’s treatment. Most psychiatrists don’t necessarily do therapy. Usually, a child will see a therapist or psychologist for weekly therapy in addition to their visits with a psychiatrist.
Finding a professional with whom you and your child feel comfortable is the most important part of looking for a mental health worker. The relationship you have with your therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist is not just about their degree or label.
Look for professionals who specialize in the difficulties your child faces. Trust your gut, and look for a professional who helps you and your child feel comfortable, safe, and free from judgment.
If you’d like to talk more about finding a professional to help, please feel free to schedule a free intro call. As a parenting coach, my job is to help parents face challenges and find solutions for the problems their kids face. I will do my best to guide you to find a mental health professional that will help your child.
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