Children & Adolescents
Families of children and adolescents may often feel alone when confronted with their child’s diagnosis of a mental illness or serious emotional disorder. NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania offers empathetic support and information that helps families gain the confidence, understanding, and strength they need in order to cope more effectively and become knowledgeable advocates for their children. Through written material as well as phone support, we offer family members information and advocacy tips on how to navigate the mental health and education systems.
Who Do I Need to Treat My Child?
Most caregivers who have concerns for a child will meet with their Primary Care Physician and share their concerns. It would be wise to chart your child’s behavior for at least a week so that your physician can better understand your child’s behavior patterns. If there is a possible problem, the physician will need to refer you to a treatment professional for therapy and/or evaluation. If they you are told this is “just a phase” and your instincts tell you that something is wrong, seek a treatment professional on your own.
It would be wise to chart your child’s behavior for at least a week so that your physician can better understand your child’s behavior patterns.
Your first step in this process is to decide what kind of professional you need to provide treatment for your child/adolescent.
Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist.
A child and adolescent psychiatrist is a licensed physician (MD or DO) and a fully trained psychiatrist with two additional years of advanced training that concentrates on children, adolescents, and families. For the most part, they provide psychiatric evaluations for behavior problems and psychiatric disorders. They can also prescribe and monitor medications.
Psychologists can have a master’s degree (MA or MS) in psychology while others have a doctoral degree (PhD, PsyD, or EdD) in clinical, educational, counseling, or research psychology. They can provide psychological evaluations and treatment for emotional and behavioral disorders. During the evaluation process, they often do psychological testing and assessments. School Psychologists usually have a master’s degree acquired through a school or university’s school of education. Among other duties, they are responsible for evaluations that are done in school settings. In order to get an evaluation in the school setting, parents must request that an evaluation be done and also give permission to have the evaluation done. This request must be in writing.
Social workers can have a bachelor’s level degree (BA, BSW or BS) Social workers that have master’s degrees (MA, MS, or MSW) usually are licensed in their state (LSW) and can provide most forms of psychotherapy.
Access to Treatment Services
Treatment for children/adolescents who have mental illness varies according to the strengths and needs of the child, diagnosis, and/or support system. Treatment can take place in several settings. Those settings may include outpatient therapy (individual and/or family based), inpatient in a hospital setting, day treatment program or residential treatment facility (RTF).
Choosing a Therapist That is Right for My Family
It is wise to chose a therapist that is easily accessible in driving distance or via public transportation. It is important for the therapist treating your child to be available during times that are convenient for you and your child (evenings, weekends). The following are questions you may wish to ask the therapist you are considering for your child:
- Have you worked with children that have the diagnosis of my child?
- How do you feel about a child taking behavioral health medication?
- What will happen in your sessions with my child? (especially if the child is too young for “talk” therapy)
- How much will you tell me about what goes on in a therapy session?
- Have you worked with children who are hesitant to go to therapy or think they do not need therapy?
- Will you work with my child and also his/her family members so that they can assist the child to work on behavior issues?
It is important that the child feel comfortable with the therapist. If, after a few sessions, you feel your child is not comfortable with the therapist, feel free to discuss this issue with the therapist. A professional will not be offended and should be willing to discuss this problem with you. If not, you can find another therapist who meets your child’s needs.
What are the Costs of Treatment?
If you have private insurance, you must contact your insurer (the number for behavioral health will be on the back of your insurance card) and request a list of mental health professionals in your area that are covered by your insurance plan. You can also discuss with your insurer how to obtain an evaluation and the number of visits that your insurance will cover.
If your child has a medical assistance (MA) card, you will have access to many programs that private insurance will not cover. To ascertain how to access programs through medical assistance, contact your insurer or NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania at 1-888-264-7972 or email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also access the MA application form online by logging onto the COMPASS website.
Advocacy Tips for Caregivers
Many of us learn advocacy from our own life experiences. We often “go to bat” for another person we feel needs our support.
Use appropriate communication; begin sentences with “I” instead of “you” to reduce blame and defensiveness.
Caretakers of children with special needs have realized that they have the power to advocate for services within the education and mental health systems and that this advocacy can make a difference in their child’s life. Listed below are effective advocacy tools a caretaker can use that will assist you to become a powerful advocate for your son or daughter.
- Become knowledgeable about you child’s illness and your rights as a caregiver (see links section).
- Create organized files of your child’s records (medical records, records of communication between you and other parties, samples of school work).
- Keep files on IEP’s (Individual Education Program), Family Service Plans, and Evaluations.
- All correspondence must be in written form (schools, insurance companies, community organizations).
- Keep a telephone log of when and to whom you speak.
- Be sure to invite your child’s case manager, therapist, behavior consultant, therapeutic staff support, psychologist, psychiatrist, or advocate to assist you through this process
- Make a list of all your concerns, goals, and ideas that you can contribute to the conversation (you are the best authority on your child).
- Use appropriate communication; begin sentences with “I” instead of “you” to reduce blame and defensiveness.
- Ask for meeting breaks if you feel you are losing your patience.
- Listen to what others have to say, even if you disagree with their ideas.
- Remember you are speaking for your child; do not get caught up in “winning”.
- Surround yourself with support (friend, relative, advocate, etc).
This page was last modified on: June 21, 2012 04:46:46pm