By Raising Children Network, with NSW Kids and Families
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Professional listening to relaxed teen
 
You’ll probably come across many different professionals working in mental health services for teenagers. Our guide can help you understand who does what – and how they can help your child.

Professionals involved in mental health services for teenagers

If your child has a mental health problem, he might see several different mental health professionals with qualifications in areas such as psychiatry, social work, counselling, psychology, education and youth work.

Your child might work with some professionals for just a short time, and have a longer-term relationship with others.

Here are some of the main professionals you and your child might come across. You might find that the services of different professionals will overlap – for example, some psychologists also offer counselling.

If your teenage child needs to see a mental health professional, you want to be sure that you’re choosing the right person for your child. You can read more about what to expect from the relationship between mental health professionals and your teenager.

GP

Your GP is the first port of call if you’re concerned about your child’s mental health. Many people start by going to their GP for an initial assessment and a referral to an adolescent mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Many young people are happy to see your family GP, but others might like to see a different doctor. It’s worthwhile finding a GP who has a special interest in adolescence and one that your child feels comfortable with.

When you find a GP who you and your child feel comfortable with, you can get to know each other and talk openly. A GP who has your child’s detailed medical history can make a diagnosis much more easily and recommend the best treatment options.

Video GPs and adolescent mental health

In this short video, a GP talks about her role treating young people with health or mental health concerns, and referring them to other services. She says it’s important for teenagers to feel comfortable seeing a GP and discussing their health concerns.
 
As your child gets older, he’ll be more likely to see his GP confidentially, without you with him. You can help your child make the move to seeing a GP alone.

Psychologists

Most psychologists work directly with people to help them find better ways of coping or managing parts of their lives.

If your child has a mental health problem, she might see a psychologist for:

  • counselling to help her cope with a range of life problems such as grief, relationship issues or stress
  • diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety, although a psychologist won’t be able to offer medication.  

Video Adolescent psychologists and adolescent mental health

In this video, two adolescent psychologists talk about working with teenagers. They tell us how teenagers get referred to psychologists and explain the difference between psychiatrists and psychologists. They also talk about how you can help your child feel comfortable talking to a psychologist.
 

Counsellors

Your child might see a counsellor to help him solve problems, understand and manage his feelings, or make plans for the future.

Some counsellors have formal qualifications in counselling, and some might be registered psychologists. Others might have a background in teaching, nursing or social work.

It’s worth checking the professional experience of any counsellors you’re interested in for your child.

Psychiatrists

If your child has a more severe mental health problem or one that’s hard to diagnose – such as depression, anxiety or psychotic disorder – she might see a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

Different psychiatrists use different treatments. These can involve:

  • family therapy and parent counselling
  • psychotherapy – that is, talking about problems and feelings
  • medication – for example, antidepressants
  • a combination of the above.

Video Adolescent psychiatrists and adolescent mental health

In this video, adolescent psychiatrist Sloane Madden talks about treating teenagers, particularly those with chronic conditions. He says illness and medication can impact on mental health. He tells us how someone might be referred to an adolescent psychiatrist, and about the way he works with teenagers and their families.
 

Social workers

You and your child might see a social worker if you need help finding your way through the services system or getting in touch with community resources and support networks.

Social workers can also work as a case manager for your child, helping him connect with appropriate organisations and therapies. Some social workers can also offer psychological treatments.

Video Social workers and adolescent mental health

This video features a social worker talking about working with teenagers. He uses family therapy so everyone in the family has a chance to share their concerns. If you have a young person who needs support for mental health, a social worker with experience in family therapy might be able to help you.
 

School psychologists or counsellors

All schools in Australia have access to school psychologists or counsellors. Some schools might share one counsellor with several other schools. Some counsellors might work directly within the school, and others might visit the school to provide services.

If your child needs someone to talk to at school, she can see the school counsellor. The counsellor can support your child’s social and emotional wellbeing and academic progress.

The counsellor might use counselling or might work on a plan with goals to help your child. The counsellor can also refer your child to other health professionals.

School psychologists and counsellors work together with you, your child’s teachers and any other professionals your child is seeing. You can make an appointment to see the school counsellor to talk about support for your child.

For example, if your child is having treatment for a mental health condition, school counsellors can help organise special provisions at exam time.

Video School counsellors and adolescent mental health

In this video, a school counsellor talks about his role in supporting teenagers with mental health concerns. He takes you through common teenage issues such as anxiety, low moods and stress, and explains how connection to others, a balanced diet, relaxation techniques, physical activity and enough sleep can help. He says teenagers need love and warmth from their parents, but also limits and boundaries.
 
 
 
 
  • Last updated or reviewed 29-04-2014
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with the Youth Health and Wellbeing Team, NSW Kids and Families (formerly Centre for the Advancement of Adolescent Health).