If you are worried about your child’s emotions or behavior, you can start by talking to friends, family members, your spiritual counselor, your child’s school counselor, or your child’s pediatrician or family physician about your concerns. If you think your child needs help, you should get as much information as possible about where to find help for your child. Sources of information include:

  • Local Core Service Agency
  • Your insurance provider
  • Maryland Coalition of Families (MCF)
  • Maryland Mental Health Association
  • National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) Maryland
  • Maryland Psychological Association
  • Department of Psychiatry in nearby medical schools
  • National professional organizations (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychiatric Association)

The variety of mental health practitioners can be confusing:

Psychiatrists have a medical degree and at least four additional years of study and training. They provide medical/psychiatric evaluations and a full range of treatment interventions for emotional and behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. As physicians, psychiatrists can prescribe and monitor medications.

Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists are psychiatrists who have two years of advance training beyond general psychiatry with children, adolescents and families.

Psychologists have an advanced degree called a doctoral degree and are licensed by the state of Maryland. They can provide psychological evaluation and treatment for emotional and behavioral problems and disorders. They also can provide psychological testing and assessments. They may not prescribe medications.

School Psychologists are trained in both psychology and education, and possess at least a master’s degree. They are licensed by the state of Maryland. School psychologists help children and youth to succeed academically, socially, behaviorally, and emotionally. They may be part of an IEP team and perform academic and psychological evaluations.

Social Workers Most social workers have earned a master’s degree in social work. In Maryland social workers are licensed by the state after passing an examination. Social workers provide different forms of psychotherapy.

(adapted from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, “Fact sheets for Families”)

Therapy — What Should I Expect?

Psychotherapy is a form of treatment that can help children and families understand and resolve problems, modify behavior, and make positive changes in their lives. There are several types of psychotherapy that involve different approaches, techniques and interventions. At times, a combination of different psychotherapy approaches may be helpful. In some cases, a combination of medication with psychotherapy may be more effective.

It is important that parents and caregivers are closely involved in their child’s treatment. The child may have therapy sessions alone with the therapist. At times, parents and caregivers may participate in therapy sessions with their child or may have private therapy sessions with their child’s therapist.

Remember that due to confidentiality laws, the therapist may not be able to share everything you child tells the therapist in therapy. This can be very frustrating to parents and caregivers! Be sure to ask your child’s therapist what information they will share with you and what they cannot share with you.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps improve a child’s moods and behavior by examining confused or negative patterns of thinking. During CBT, the child learns that thoughts cause feelings and moods that can influence behavior. For example, if a child is experiencing unwanted feelings or has problematic behaviors, the therapist works to identify the underlying thinking that is causing them. The therapist then helps the child to replace this thinking with thoughts that result in more appropriate feelings and behaviors. Research shows that CBT can be effective in treating depression and anxiety.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can be used to treat older adolescents who have chronic suicidal feelings/thoughts, engage in intentional self-harm, or have Borderline Personality Disorder. DBT emphasizes taking responsibility for one’s problems and helps the person examine how they deal with conflict and negative feelings. This treatment often involves a combination of group and individual sessions.

Family Therapy focuses on helping the family function in more positive and constructive ways by exploring patterns of communication and providing support and education. Family therapy sessions can include the child or adolescent along with parents, siblings and grandparents. Couples Therapy is a specific type of family therapy that focuses on a couple’s communication and interactions (e.g., parents having marital problems).

Group Therapy uses the power of group dynamics and peer interactions to increase understanding and improve social skills. There are many different types of group therapy (e.g., psychodynamic, social skills, substance abuse, multifamily, parent support, etc.).

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is a brief treatment specifically developed and tested for depression. The goals of IPT are to improve interpersonal functioning by decreasing the symptoms of depression. IPT has been shown to be effective in adolescents with depression.

Play Therapy involves the use of toys, blocks dolls, puppets, drawings and games to help the child recognize, identify and verbalize feelings. The psychotherapist observes how the child uses play materials and identifies themes or patterns to understand the child’s problems. Through a combination of talk and play, the child has an opportunity to better understand and manage their conflicts, feelings and behavior.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy emphasizes understanding the issues that motivate and influence a child’s behavior, thoughts and feelings. It can help identify a child’s typical behavior patterns, defenses and responses to inner conflicts and struggles.

Psychoanalysis is a specialized, more intensive form of psychodynamic psychotherapy that usually involves several sessions per week. Psychodynamic psychotherapies are based on the assumption that a child’s behavior and feelings will improve once the inner struggles are brought to light.

(from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychitatry, “Facts for Families”)