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How to choose a mental health provider for your child

How to choose a mental health provider for your child

Mental Health Child

Choosing a therapist for your child can be difficult. Often, you’re unsure where to start and what to expect. Also, during COVID-19, many therapists are seeing patients virtually, but that can also be effective. Here are some ideas to help you get started:

Be patient with yourself

This can be hard for many parents. You may experience a wide range of feelings – sadness, frustration, worry, embarrassment, or fear. Please know this is normal and be patient with yourself.

Talk to your insurance company

If you have insurance, consider using your mental health benefits to cover treatment.

  • Start by calling your insurance to find out if you have mental health benefits and what they cover. Look on the back of the card for a phone number for mental or behavioral health services. If you do not see one, look for a member or customer service number.
  • Call the number, tell the representative that you’re a member and want to understand your mental health benefits.
  • They might ask for a diagnosis or what level of care your child needs. It’s okay to say you don’t know, and you just want a general understanding of your mental health benefits. 
  • Ask if they use any methods to identify high performing providers.

Some agencies like the Family Counseling Center and Family Support Center offer sliding scale and no cost options for those without insurance.

Do some research

When you begin to call providers, here are some things to expect:

  • Most providers will ask some basic demographics, including your insurance.
  • They’ll ask for some background information on what your child is doing or saying that has you concerned. Describe as best as you can these behaviors to help the provider know if they can meet your needs.
  • Have a piece of paper and pencil available. Notes will help you track your phone calls and next steps.

Ask questions before committing to a provider

With any medical provider, a good fit is important. As you’re researching providers, here are some questions to consider asking:

  • Does my child sound like other children you’ve treated or worked with?
  • Do you use tools or outcomes to show that children are improving? What are they?
  • What kind of provider will I be working with? NOTE: To understand the different types of mental wellness providers visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
  • Can you describe this provider’s style and personality? NOTE: You know your child best. You may have an idea of what type of provider might be a good fit for your child (male vs. female, gentle versus upfront). Share this information with the provider. Also consider being open to other types of clinicians. There’s a lot of research to show the relationship your child has with the provider is a high indicator of success. Sometimes, being open to new personality types and genders can bring about more opportunities for your child.
  • How long is the wait for this provider?
  • What will happen in the first visit?
  • Will the provider talk with me alone?
  • How will the provider know what my child needs?
  • Do you accept my insurance?
  • What will the provider be able to tell me what they talk about with my child?
  • What books or resources can I research while I wait for the appointment?

Preparing for your visit

As you prepare for your child's visit with the therapist, consider bringing in notes on specific behaviors or concerns you have. 

  • Talk with your child about what you’re each hoping to accomplish with the visit. It’s okay if your goals look different than your child’s. In the first visit, let the provider know these goals. This will lead to you both to creating a treatment plan. A treatment plan is a measurable goal and the strategies you, your child, and the provider will use to accomplish this goal.
  • Discuss with the provider what indicators you’ll use to determine the goals have been reached.
  • How will you determine success and that your child’s mental health is improving? A treatment plan will help ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • Providers may have wait times. It may be best to call several providers and get placed on several waiting lists. Just remember to contact the other agencies once you have an appointment, so they can open that spot for others.

Consider other supportive resources

If your preferred provider has a wait, here are some ideas for options while you wait for your appointment:

  • Attend a parent support group or parenting group. (Groups may be virtual right now.)
  • Make an appointment with your pediatrician to share your concerns.
  • Talk with your child’s school about any available resources they might offer.
  • See if your employer has an Employee Assistance Program that might be able to see you sooner for some brief therapy visits.
  • Study the books and resources your provider recommended. 
  • Be careful with Google!