Professionals involved in mental health services for pre-teens and teenagers
If your child has a mental health problem, they might see a mental health professional with qualifications in areas like psychiatry, social work, counselling, psychology or occupational therapy. Your child might also see professionals in education and youth work.
Your child might work with some professionals for just a short time and have longer-term relationships with others.
Here are the main professionals you and your child might come across. You might find that professionals offer overlapping services. For example, both psychiatrists and psychologists offer counselling.
GPs and teenage mental health
Your GP is often the first person to talk to if you’re concerned about your child’s mental health. Many people start by going to their GPs for an initial assessment and referral to adolescent mental health professionals like psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers or occupational therapists.
Many pre-teens and teenagers are happy to see their family GP, but others might like to see different doctors. It’s worthwhile finding a GP who has a special interest in adolescence and one your child feels comfortable with. Some GPs have also done additional training in mental health.
When you find a suitable GP, 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 right treatment plan.
As your child gets older, they might prefer to see the GP without you. You can help your child make the move to seeing a GP alone.
Counsellors and teenage mental health
Your child might see a counsellor to help them solve problems, understand and manage feelings, or make plans for the future.
Some counsellors have formal qualifications in counselling, and some might have a background in teaching, nursing, social work or occupational therapy.
It’s worth checking the professional experience of any counsellors you’re interested in for your child. And it’s a good idea to find a counsellor with specialist training in working with children and teenagers.
Occupational therapists and teenage mental health
Your child might see an occupational therapist to help them manage daily living activities and mental health problems. Occupational therapists are trained to assess how someone is coping with everyday tasks.
An occupational therapist can help your child develop self-care routines, organisational skills and social skills. They can also help your child get motivated and manage their emotions.
Psychiatrists and teenage mental health
Some mental health conditions severely affect daily life or are particularly hard to treat. These problems include severe mood disturbance, significant anxiety and psychotic disorder. If your child has one of these conditions, your child might see a child and adolescent psychiatrist.
Different psychiatrists use different therapies. These can involve:
- family therapy and parent counselling
- psychotherapy – that is, talking about problems and feelings
- medicines – for example, antidepressants or mood stabilisers
- a combination of the above.
Psychologists and teenage mental health
Many psychologists work directly with young people to help them find better ways of coping or managing parts of their lives.
If your child has a mental health problem, they might see a psychologist for:
- counselling to help them cope with problems like school or study issues, body image, relationships or stress
- diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions like depression or anxiety, although a psychologist won’t be able to prescribe medicine.
School psychologists or counsellors and teenage mental health
Most public and private schools in Australia have access to school psychologists or counsellors.
If your child needs someone to talk to at school, they can see the school counsellor. The counsellor can support your child’s social and emotional wellbeing and academic progress.
The counsellor might talk about your child’s problems and work with your child on a plan to help. The counsellor can also refer your child to other health professionals.
With your child’s consent, school psychologists and counsellors can 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 to organise special provisions at exam time.
Social workers and teenage mental health
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.
A social worker might also work as a case manager for your child, helping your child connect with appropriate organisations and therapies. Some social workers also offer therapies for your child and your family.