Building a Mental Health Team
Our six year-old son has many behavioral problems. I’ve talked to our pediatrician about using medication to help manage some of his behaviors. The doctor suggested finding a child psychiatrist but there aren’t any in our area, so she is willing to provide medication management if we partner with a mental health professional. How do I know if another kind of mental health provider (school counselor, family therapist, social worker) will understand what we need and work with our pediatrician to help us get the right treatment?
Congratulations on finding a pediatrician who supports your instinct to build a team to support your son and you. Too often parents try to manage complicated behaviors without using full resources. Chronic developmental issues are similar to chronic physical health issues, for example diabetes, in which the treatment usually involves behavioral change, life style alterations, and medication that need monitoring over time.
After you receive a few referrals from trusted sources like your pediatrician, colleagues, school counselor, or friends, think of yourself as a recruiter in search of the best providers for your team, people who share your philosophy and approach. While you may not be an expert in mental health or child development, you are an expert about your child and family.
Second, develop a comfortable script as to why you are seeking services. For example, “My child has difficulties with forming peer relationships, managing his emotional reactions, and paying attention in learning situations. We are looking for someone to partner with us and our pediatrician to find the best ways to support him, which may include a combination of therapy and medication.”
Third, engage in a two-way interview process with a potential provider. It is okay to ask the mental health provider if s/he:
- has experience working as part of a team with the family, child and pediatrician
- can share examples of successful collaborations
- has established views or protocols about the use of medications
Once you know that your approaches and goals are compatible; work to create comfortable, clear, and timely communication between all team members. Think of yourself as the team leader, using the team members’ expertise and support to help you help your son and family.