Your Child Needs Counseling--Now What?

by Family Therapist Sally Souliere, MSW LICSW

Your child seems emotionally distressed and you're concerned it's beyond the point of typical childhood anxiety. You're ready to seek a professional's opinion, but where should you start?

This is a question that many parents and caretakers face when they attempt to find help for a child in need of mental health services. Insurance plans and benefits are often confusing and unclear. The type of care the child needs may be unclear. Counselors aren't returning phone calls. Do we need a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist? Do I need a referral? Should I call the pediatrician? I can't get an appointment for over a month ... now what?
These are questions and concerns that don't always have easy solutions. Here are a few general guidelines and tips that may make the process a bit easier:
• If your child is in immediate danger you must go to the local emergency room or call 911. This includes thoughts or feelings of suicide and suicidal behavior. Do not wait for a call back from a physician or insurance company.
• For less urgent needs, it is usually best to begin with the pediatrician or family physician. He or she may do an initial assessment to rule out medical concerns and discuss mental health options. The doctor may refer you to particular mental health providers with experience and solid backgrounds.
• Call your insurance company for specific mental health benefits and coverage. Is there a deductible? Do I need a referral from my physician? How many visits are allowed? What is the co payment? Who are the in-network area providers? It is your responsibility to be fully aware of the mental health benefits and costs.
• Make several calls to area providers to discuss their specialties, experience, availability and schedule.
• Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have prescribing privileges. Psychologists generally hold doctoral degrees and are often trained in administering psychological testing as well as providing counseling. Psychotherapists generally do not do testing but provide many types of counseling and therapy. Be sure to know what type of provider you are scheduled to see.
• If you do not have transportation, it will be important to choose an agency that offers outreach or in-school services.
• Ask that the therapist have contact with your child's school and physician. Coordination of care is very important for successful treatment. You will be asked to sign formal releases of information to allow this contact.
• Develop clear treatment goals with the practitioner so that the focus is clear and understandable to everyone.

Click here for more information on YOUR role in the treatment process.

More from
Disciplining OTHER People's Kids-- A Yes or BIG No No?
Are You Ruining Your Kids' Social Lives?
Tantrums? Meltdowns? Backtalk? Stop The Chaos In Your House
10 Simple Parenting Tips That Can Make a Big Difference in Your Family
Making Better Fast Food Choices
Is it PMS or PMDD? Why You Need to Know

Head to for more on parenting, health, family, fashion, money, home, cooking & more!