Professionals involved in mental health services for teenagers

If your child has a mental health problem, she might see several different mental health professionals with qualifications in areas like 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  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 and your child are choosing the right person. You can read more about what to expect from  mental health professionals for teenagers.

GPs and teenage mental health

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 GPs for initial assessment and referral to adolescent mental health professionals, like psychiatrists or psychologists.

Many young people are happy to see their family GPs, 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 GP 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.

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 and teenage mental health

Most 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, she might see a psychologist for:

  • counselling to help her cope with a range of life problems like grief, school or study issues, body image, relationships  or stress
  • diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses like depression or anxiety, although a psychologist won’t be able to offer medication.

Counsellors and teenage mental health

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 and teenage mental health

If your child has a more severe mental health problem or one that’s hard to diagnose – like depression, anxiety or a 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.

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 him connect with appropriate organisations and therapies. Some social workers can also offer therapy treatments for your child and your family.

School psychologists or counsellors and teenage mental health

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 schools, and others might visit schools 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.

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 organise special provisions at exam time.