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Where to seek help for your child

Based on the behaviors you’ve documented, you’ve determined that you need professional help with your child’s problems.

The mental health system is complicated and can be difficult for parents to understand. Where do you start?

Begin by finding out as much information as you can. Some sources might include:

  • Employee Assistance Program through your employer
  • Local medical society, local psychiatric society
  • Local mental health association
  • County mental health department
  • Local hospitals or medical centers with psychiatric services
  • Department of Psychiatry in nearby medical school
  • National Advocacy Organizations (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, National Mental Health Association)
  • National professional organizations (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychiatric Association)

Visit our resources page for many related links.

How are different mental health practitioners defined? Few states regulate the practice of psychotherapy so a “therapist” could be a psychiatrist, psychologist, psychiatric social worker, psychiatric nurse, or counselor. Be sure to check the education and credentials of any therapist before beginning treatment.

The American Association Child and Adolescent Psychiatry offers the following definitions for mental health professionals:

Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist — A child and adolescent psychiatrist is a licensed physician (M.D. or D.O.) who is a fully trained psychiatrist and who has two additional years of advanced training beyond general psychiatry with children, adolescents and families. Child and adolescent psychiatrists who pass the national examination administered by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology become board certified in child and adolescent psychiatry. Child and adolescent psychiatrists provide medical/psychiatric evaluation and a full range of treatment interventions for emotional and behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. As physicians, child and adolescent psychiatrists can prescribe and monitor medications.

Psychiatrist — A psychiatrist is a physician, a medical doctor, whose education includes a medical degree (M.D. or D.O.) and at least four additional years of study and training. Psychiatrists are licensed by the states as physicians. Psychiatrists who pass the national examination administered by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology become board certified in psychiatry. Psychiatrists provide medical/psychiatric evaluation and treatment for emotional and behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. As physicians, psychiatrists can prescribe and monitor medications.

Psychologist — Psychologists have a doctoral degree (Ph.D., Psy.D, or Ed.D) in clinical, educational, counseling, developmental or research psychology. Psychologists are licensed by most states. Psychologists can also provide psychological evaluation and treatment for emotional and behavioral problems and disorders. Psychologists can also provide psychological testing and assessments.

Social Worker — Some social workers have a bachelor’s degree (B.A., B.S.W., or B.S.), however most social workers have earned a master’s degree (M.S. or M.S.W.). In most states social workers can take an examination to be licensed as clinical social workers. Social workers provide different forms of psychotherapy.