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Choosing a Mental Health Therapist for Your Child

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KEY POINTS

  • Children benefit most from therapy if they develop a trusting relationship with their therapist.
  • You may need to meet with a few therapists before you find the one who works best for your child.
  • When you talk with possible therapists, ask lots of questions about their experience, fees, and ideas for how best to help your child.

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How do I find a therapist?

Ask questions and get referrals from people you know and trust. You could check with:

  • Your healthcare provider
  • Your clergyman, school teachers, or school counselors
  • Friends or family members who have been in therapy
  • Your health insurance company
  • Your employee assistance program (EAP) at work
  • Local mental health or human service agencies
  • Professional associations of psychologists, psychiatrists, or counselors

How do I choose a therapist?

There are many types of mental health professionals. Each type has its own training, techniques, and area of expertise. For example, psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe medicines as well as provide therapy. Psychologists are trained in counseling, therapy, and testing. Licensed counselors usually have a master’s degree, and may specialize in an area such as substance abuse or family therapy.

Think about the kind of therapist your child would feel most comfortable with. You may prefer someone of a certain age, gender, cultural background, or religion.

You and your child may need to meet with a few therapists before you find the one who works best for your child. Most therapists welcome the chance to meet for one session to answer your questions. Some charge a fee for this meeting so be sure to ask if there is a charge for the session when you set the appointment.

What questions should I ask?

To help you decide on the right therapist for your child, you may want to ask the following questions:

Training and experience questions

  • What education (bachelor's, master's, or doctorate degree) does the therapist have?
  • What areas of expertise does the therapist have?
  • What experience (number of years doing therapy, in what settings, with what kind of clients) does the therapist have?
  • Is the therapist licensed? People with no training at all can call themselves psychotherapists or therapists. Licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, and certified social workers have met state and national requirements.
  • What experience does the therapist have with your child's particular problems, struggles, or diagnosis?

Financial questions

  • Ask about the fees and fee schedule:
    • Do you pay after each session, monthly, or when billed?
    • Do you pay for missed sessions?
    • Are you charged for phone calls?
    • Is there a sliding fee scale?
  • Is the therapist on your health insurance plan?
  • Will the therapist work out a payment plan with you if you decide you don't want to file with your insurance company?

Confidentiality questions

  • What kind of information about your child will the therapist share with you? As a parent, you may expect that the therapist will tell you if your child is using illegal substances or is sexually active. The therapist may not expect to share this information with you. Ask about this at the first session.
  • What types of personal information will be provided to your insurance company?
  • Under what circumstances would the therapist share confidential information with others such as police, healthcare providers, or employers?

Therapy questions

  • What kind of therapy does the therapist recommend for your child?
    • Does the therapist mainly focus on your child's thoughts, feelings, or behaviors?
    • Will the therapist focus on your child as an individual or will therapy include family members?
    • How long are the sessions? (30 minutes? 50 minutes?)
    • Could the therapist see your child after or before school?
    • About how many sessions will therapy take?
    • Can you call or see the therapist in a crisis?
    • How will you be informed about your child’s progress in therapy? How will you be included in the treatment?
  • Will the therapist work with you and your child to set goals? What results might you expect? Are you satisfied with these?
  • Can the therapist prescribe medicine or refer to someone who can prescribe medicine? Are there risks to the child being on medicines?

Above all, are you and your child comfortable with the therapist? Children benefit most from therapy if they develop a trusting relationship with their therapist. The relationship that you and your child have with the therapist is the most important thing to consider in your decision.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2016.4 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-12-17
Last reviewed: 2016-01-21
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright © 2016 RelayHealth, a division of McKesson Technologies Inc. All rights reserved.
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