Mental health professionals for teenagers: what to expect
Your child’s mental health professionals should be competent, skilled and knowledgeable in their area of practice.
But it’s OK to want more than that for your child – it’s OK to want someone who cares. In fact, your child’s and family’s relationship with a mental health professional is more likely to work out well if the professional does the following things.
Considers your family
A family-centred professional takes the needs of your whole family into account when working with you and your child. The professional focuses on finding solutions that work not only for your child but for your whole family.
You can expect the professional to ask questions about how your family works. This will help the professional understand your family’s strengths and build on them.
Sees your child as a person
You want a mental health professional who sees your child as a person and looks beyond her mental health condition.
A mental health professional with this approach is interested in what your child can do, not just in what he can’t do. The professional builds on your child’s strengths, sets achievable goals and tasks and helps your child to make progress.
Talks openly and respectfully
The way mental health professionals interact with your child is important – easy, polite and respectful is a good start.
For example, look for someone who doesn’t talk about your child as if she isn’t there, talks directly to your child when that’s appropriate, and notices if your child is feeling uncomfortable.
Listens and provides information
You’re more likely to have a good working relationship with a mental health professional who listens to your concerns, opinions and questions and makes enough time to explain things you’re unsure about.
The professional might also refer you to other services, like support groups, or talk to other professionals involved with your child (with your consent).
Works with you as a partner
It can sometimes be easy to feel overshadowed by professionals or to feel you’re handing your child over to them, but your role is important.
You might worry you’ll be seen as ‘difficult’ if you push for what you want. But a professional who works with you as a partner on behalf of your child appreciates your role as an advocate for your child. For example, this kind of professional asks you to share ideas and information about your child.
As your child gets older, he might not want to share everything with you. He also has the right to talk to his health professional in confidence. You can read more about this in our article on your child’s health rights and responsibilities.
Disagreements with mental health professionals: what to do
Sometimes you might disagree with the mental health professional you’re working with.
If this happens it’s best to speak directly to the professional. In most situations you’ll be able to figure things out between you. The stronger your relationship with the professional, the easier it will be to work things out.
It’s best if you make a special appointment to talk about things that are worrying you. It’s hard to have a serious discussion in a casual encounter or when your child is there.
Here are some ideas for talking with mental health professionals about disagreements:
- Say honestly what’s bothering you and be specific about your concerns.
- Try not to criticise the professional or the service the professional works for. You’re much more likely to get a helpful response if the professional feels you’re working together.
- Listen to what the professional says about the issue – you might hear some interesting ideas.
- Consider taking someone with you if the matter is serious or complicated. Let the professional know beforehand that you’re bringing someone with you.
If you’re still unhappy after you’ve talked to the professional, you can make an appointment to speak to the professional’s supervisor, team leader or manager. Most services have policies and procedures to sort out differences between parents and staff members.
If you’re still not satisfied, you can contact the service’s regional or head office, or raise your concerns with the relevant professional body.
You might need advocacy support to help you get your problem sorted out.
It’s a good idea to keep notes of all your discussions with the professional, supervisor and other service staff. It’ll help you accurately remember what happens.
What guides a mental health professional’s behaviour?
Most of the people you work with will belong to a professional association. These associations usually have a code of professional practice or ethical (or practice) standards that outline their professional responsibilities.