If your child is struggling with mental health issues, finding some type of therapy is a priority. However, choosing a type of therapy or deciding whether to use a child psychiatrist, psychologist or another type of therapist can be confusing. Let’s take a look at the different options you may want to consider.
Child & Family Therapists
A therapist, sometimes called a counselor, is a professional that has completed a master’s degree in a mental health-related specialty, such as family therapy or psychology. With children, a therapist might use talk therapy, play therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy to help with issues such as childhood trauma, anxiety, depression, ADHD, eating disorders or other mental health issues.
Psychologists have a bit more education and have completed a doctoral degree. In general, these professionals also provide therapy such as talk therapy, play therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Both psychologists and therapists often diagnose mental health issues and provide non-medical intervention and treatment.
A pediatric psychiatrist or child psychiatrist is another option to consider, and as a child psychiatrist, I often recommend this as a good first step. Psychiatrists are medical doctors and are the only type of therapists that can prescribe medication. However, medication is not the primary reason why I recommend consulting with a psychiatrist as a first step in the treatment of a mental health issue.
As a pediatric psychiatrist, I can provide the perspective of both a medical doctor and mental health professional. It can be smart to take a look at the whole person before deciding on treatment options. In some cases, there may be physical issues that are contributing to mental health issues and opting to meet first with a psychiatrist can be a more balanced approach.
In general, my area of expertise is providing patients with a complete and thorough diagnosis that addresses all issues that are present. Without a proper diagnosis, we can’t create an effective treatment plan. I meet with each patient several times to arrive at a diagnosis and then we discuss treatment options, which may or may not include medication.
While a pediatric psychiatrist can provide you with a thorough diagnosis, prescribe medication and create a treatment plan, they typically don’t provide therapy. You come to us to find out what is wrong, so to speak, and we diagnose, consider if medication is appropriate and discuss different types of therapy that will benefit the patient.
Common Conditions Psychiatrists Treat
There are many conditions that psychiatrists, as well as psychologists and therapists, can treat. These include:
For parents, it can be helpful to watch for signs of these types of mental health disorders. Bipolar disorder, for instance, is rare in young children, but it can occur. Typically, this condition develops during the teenage and young adult years and symptoms might include severe mood swings, aggression, engaging in risky behavior, an exaggerated sense of confidence or worthlessness.
Symptoms of depression include long-term feelings of sadness and hopelessness, changes in appetite, changes in sleep habits (either trouble sleeping or sleep excessively), fatigue, physical issues such as stomachaches or headaches that don’t get better with treatment, inability to concentrate and more. Depression in children can manifest as anger or moodiness, so if your child “acts out,” this could be a sign of depression.
Anxiety disorders have many symptoms, and these can include difficulty with concentration, sleep issues, eating issues, irritability or anger, constant worrying, constant crying, separation anxiety, anxiety about social events or school, constant stomach aches or simply feeling unwell. As you can see, some of these symptoms also are common with depression.
Of course, it’s worth noting that some of the symptoms of disorders such as ADHD also might look like symptoms of bipolar disorder. Symptoms of anxiety also could be an anxiety disorder or a manifestation of ADHD symptoms. In some cases, a person might have multiple mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression or anxiety and ADHD. This is why it is so important to spend much time coming to a correct diagnosis.
The main indicator that your child may have a mental health disorder is not just the presence of one or more symptoms. After all, we all have days where we feel cranky, worried, sad or anxious. When these issues persist for several months and interfere with daily life, then we recognize that steps need to be taken to improve our mental health. Basically, if your child’s issues are affecting their overall happiness, school performance, friendships or family life for several weeks or months, it’s time to get some help.
For some patients, medication may help ease symptoms, although it’s important to note that it can take time to find the best medication and the correct dosage. Medication alone also isn’t the best option. We typically recommend therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, to help a patient manage and alleviate symptoms.
Choosing The Right Child Psychiatrist, Psychologist & Therapist
To be honest, the hardest parts of any mental health journey are deciding to seek treatment and finding a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist that is the best fit for your child. Every person is unique and what works with one person might not work with another.
For parents, it can be difficult to admit that your child needs help but look at it this way, parenting is hard, and our children don’t come with instruction manuals. Most parents aren’t mental health professionals, either, so there’s really no way they would know the best way to handle issues such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and so forth.
One thing that parents do understand is that something is wrong with their child’s wellbeing. If your child or teenager is struggling in school, has unusual dietary changes, has severe mood swings or perhaps is frequently anxious or upset or lacks interest in friendships, grooming or any activities they previously enjoyed, talk to your child’s doctor and then consider seeking further professional help.
A pediatric psychiatrist or child psychiatrist can be the best first step to take for the treatment of mental health issues in children and teenagers. As a licensed child psychiatrist, I can provide a thorough psychiatric consultation and come up with a treatment plan that addresses all of the issues your child or teen may be facing.
While I am a psychiatrist in Thousand Oaks, and many of my clients are from the surrounding area, I do offer telepsychiatry services. These days, as we are still in the midst of a global pandemic, this can be the best and safest option for families. It’s simple and easy, and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home, which can be a huge relief to my younger patients.
Whether you need a child psychiatrist in Thousand Oaks, a psychiatrist in Westlake Village or anywhere else in Southern California, we can meet online using a desktop, tablet or even a smartphone. Don’t wait another day to find a treatment plan that works for your child, call us now at (805) 374-1120 and let’s set up a consultation and find ways to help your child or teen live their best life.
Dr Jesalva is a psychiatrist. He is in private practice in Thousand Oaks, CA since 1989. He successfully treats very challenging patients with varying co-occurring disorders with medications.