Getting Help from a Professional
for Children and Adolescents with
Psychological Disorders

Getting help for your child, or for you in dealing with your child, can be a complicated process.

Being informed about services available, types of providers, and health insurance rules,

will allow you to be an educated consumer of mental health services.

The first step in the process is to identify that your child, adolescent or family has a problem.


This may sound easy, but it is often difficult to determine.  Knowing what is normal (and this is a wide range) based on a child's age and level of development is helpful.  T. Berry Brazelton, MD, a nationally known pediatrician who taught at Harvard Medical School, worked at Children's Hospital in Boston, and practiced on the North Shore, has written a number of books helpful to identify normal child development for parents.

Pediatricians and physicians spend up to an estimated 36% of their time with mental health issues.  These are experts who are generally easy to consult, since they usually have an ongoing knowledge of your child and can identify problems.  Many times these professionals can address a problem with practical suggestions.  They can also recommend and refer to other service providers in your area that they are aware of and feel confident about.

There are many types of mental health problems a child or adolescent can experience.  Use the Navigation Bars to the left to find out more about the many types of specific disorders.  Some service providers specialize in a specific type of disorder or disorders.  Some types of therapy are more helpful than others for certain types of disorders.

Children and adolescents are also commonly identified as in need of help by school professionals.  Teachers see your child developing academically and intellectually.  They can call attention to learning or behavior problems for parents.  School staff observe your child interacting with peers in structured and unstructured social situations, which can lead to identifying problems.  They can be alert to mood or anxiety issues which may require attention.

Many children who exhibit emotional, behavioral or developmental problems at home may not demonstrate the same issues at school.  This may be due to the structure available at school, or to the ability to blend in to the group and not attract attention.  This may be due to a focus of problems at home, where the child looks forward to being out of the house.  Parents should check with their child's school personnel to see if problems at home are observed at school.

There are also many children who do not exhibit problems at home, but only at school, or out in the community with peers.  This is common with anxiety disorders.  Parents should be receptive to hearing about their child's issues at school, since this may be a way to identify problems early and seek help when interventions can be easier and quicker.

Lots of parents do not want to acknowledge that their child has a problem, for many reasons.  However, admitting that there is an issue and getting the appropriate assistance can minimize the problems and lead to a more healthy individual or family.

Next, finding the proper helping professional. 

Once you have identified that a problem exists, the next step in getting help is finding the proper helping professional.

As mentioned before, consulting a physician familiar with your child is a great idea.  School staff can often provide names and referrals to helping professionals in your community.  Asking another parent, or finding a local parent support group can be another way of finding effective resources.  Yellow page or on-line advertisements can aid you to find potential professionals.  Or you may consult with your health insurance company for referrals.

Diagnosis and therapy for mental health issues is often covered by health insurance.  However, there are certain requirements which you should be aware of.  Getting services from a licensed professional is usually required for coverage.

Types of mental health providers include a Psychologist, a Social Worker, or a medical professional such as a Psychiatrist.  These types of providers are licensed, which happens on a State level.  You may find information about professionals from your state licensing body (the Board of Registration in Massachusetts).  Information on providers can also be obtained from state professional associations.  National professional associations are also a source of information about service providers.

Your insurance contract may also require you to utilize specific providers, known as their network.  Consult with your health insurance company to identify these requirements and find network people available in your area.  Many insurers have on-line web sites to help their subscribers search for professionals who are approved for coverage.  Some health insurance contracts allow for out-of-network providers to be used, although this may require a deductible or higher copay fee.  Many policies also require prior approval for mental health services.

Contact local professionals for an appointment. 

Once you have identified that a problem exists for your child or adolescent, and have decided on a type of mental health service provider, you'll need to contact local professionals to make an appointment.  Providers may be individuals in private practice, or they may be found in a licensed group practice, or in an accredited, licensed community mental health center.

This may be somewhat frustrating, since children are officially an underserved population, meaning that there are generally not enough providers available in any particular area.  (This can also mean that many children needing help are never identified, referred for service, or follow through with recommendations.)  You may need to contact several providers to obtain a timely appointment.

The match between a provider and a parent, child, adolescent or family is also an important element to getting appropriate help and solving problems effectively.  Generally you can tell after a short conversation, or after the initial meeting, whether you and your child feel comfortable with this professional and their treatment planning.  Many adolescents prefer a therapist who is the same sex as themselves, since this makes discussing personal issues more comfortable.

If you have identified a specific mental health need for your child, you will want to find out if the provider you are seeking out is trained and experienced in this area.

Finally, what type of treatment plan from that professional. 

Types of mental health service are numerous.  With an accurate diagnosis of your child's problem, recommended treatment planning may include one or more of several types of intervention.  Types of service include individual therapy, family therapy, group therapy, medication intervention, as well as inpatient hospitalization, residential and day treatment programs, and specialty programs such as Outward Bound.  Psychological testing may be recommended to help further identify problems and determine treatment options.  Educational interventions are often required to supplement treatments for children and adolescents.

There are also different kinds of treatment available within these service types.  Examples include play therapy, behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, hypnosis, eye movement desensitization therapy, and others.  There are short term (time limited) therapies, as well as long term therapy.  Not all providers are trained and have experience in all types of treatment.

Hopefully, this information has given you a better idea of how to get psychological help for your child's mental health issues.  Please click on the links in the text above for more information.  (Please be patient while the pages for these links are under construction.)

If you live in southeast Massachusetts, in Plymouth county, Cranberry Counseling in Marshfield would be more than happy to answer your questions and to make an appointment to help diagnose and start a treatment plan for your child or adolescent and your family.  See the Cranberry Counseling, P.C. page, or use the Contact Us form.