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Who Can Help With Children’s Mental Health Challenges?

If you’ve decided that your child needs help for emotional, behavior or learning problems, the next step is to consult a professional. But where should you go?  

For most parents, talking to your family doctor is a good place to start. The advantage of going to the pediatrician is that they already know your child and your family. Plus, they see so many children that they can be good at recognizing unusual behavior. They can also do medical tests to rule out physical health problems. 

Your pediatrician may be able to refer you to a mental health professional who would be a good fit for your child. Some pediatricians diagnose and treat mental health disorders themselves. The disadvantage is that your pediatrician may not have much training in mental health problems and experience diagnosing or treating them. They also may not have time to do a careful assessment. The assessment is important because many common issues in children — inattention, tantrums, disruptive behavior — can be caused by several different disorders. To get the best treatment, your child needs the right diagnosis. 

Feel free to ask your doctor if they are comfortable and knowledgeable concerning mental illness or to ask for a referral to a more appropriate clinician.  

Types of mental health professionals who can help children include: 

A licensed clinical social worker (with an LCSW or LMSW degree) is often one of the first people a child will see if they have trouble in school or are referred for mental health treatment. Social workers are trained to assess the needs of kids and families, diagnose psychiatric problems, and develop treatment plans. They are skilled in figuring out why issues are happening and finding ways to address them. 

A clinical child psychologist has a PhD or a PsyD degree as well as experience helping kids with mental health disorders. Psychologists can diagnose and treat a wide range of disorders with specialized types of therapy. They can work with a psychiatrist or other medical doctor if medication treatment is appropriate. 

A school psychologist works with kids who are struggling in school. They can diagnose mental health disorders. But more often, they will collect information from school reports and coordinate a larger treatment team for your child. A school psychologist is a great place to start if you’re concerned. They can give you advice, coordinate support at school, and give referrals. 

Neuropsychologists specialize in the functioning of the brain and how it relates to behavior and thinking. They are extensively trained in testing and evaluation. Your child might be referred to a neuropsychologist for testing if they have trouble with focus, attention, problem-solving or learning. Neuropsychologists can help figure out whether your child’s challenges are caused by a mental health disorder or a learning or developmental disorder. 

A child and adolescent psychiatrist is a medical doctor with specialized training in diagnosing and treating mental health problems in young people. They can diagnose the full range of disorders and prescribe medication as well. 

A developmental and behavioral pediatrician is a medical doctor with training in developmental and behavioral problems. Their expertise may make them a good choice for children with complicated medical or developmental problems. 

Neurologists are medical doctors who specialize in the nervous system. A referral for neurological assessment can determine whether symptoms are the result of nervous system disorders, such as seizures.

Return to Connect to Care for more information about getting kids help.