April 13, 2015
In our previous post, we spoke about what to do if you feel your child might be in need of psychological help. We noted that even finding the right phone number on the back of your insurance card can be challenging. The understandable stress of worrying about your child is compounded by a clumsy system that at times seems to conspire against readily available help. Ironically, most of us don’t discover just how hard it can be until we’re in the thick of the storm. When we need help for our children, we need it immediately, and yet, it’s precisely at this moment that we instead spend an inordinate and unacceptable amount of time on hold with various service providers.
All of us here at The Clay Center are familiar with this mess, and still, we can’t help but read that paragraph above and not feel just a little guilty. We receive literally dozens of calls a week, to the point where we often can’t keep up—even to let people know that our patient load is full (if it is), and to help them locate another provider. We’re certainly not trying to whine; we’re just being honest. We’re running like hamsters on treadmills—and that’s why our emergency services are chalk full of people just trying to find some help.
But all of this begs some important questions:
Let’s get you prepared for your child’s initial visit with a mental health clinician. If the doctor you’re planning to see works out, you’ll still have quite a bit of work ahead. But, we’ll get to that in a follow-up post.
Questions & Considerations For The Initial Phone Call
There are some concrete inquiries you should make right off the bat. Many of these might seem basic, but it’s the basic stuff that often gets overlooked. These questions have to do with things as mundane as payment, and as nuanced as practice style.
Telling Your Child About The Appointment
Despite our best efforts to dispel stigma, the fact remains that depictions of psychiatric illness and treatment are on the whole very negatively portrayed. This is the case in movies, television shows and even radio commercials. Your child will potentially be well aware of these stereotypes, and even if he has friends who see mental health clinicians, he still might find the thought of seeing “a shrink” hard to swallow. As we like to stress, your best approach should be grounded in development. What you say to your 6-year-old will be quite different from what you tell your teen.
For young kids, remember that a visit to the doctor is usually associated with pain. Shots, throat cultures, blood draws, needles…this is what your little one will picture. Make it clear to her right away that the mental health clinician will not be giving shots. There will be no Q-tips. There might be a weigh-in and some slight discomfort with the blood pressure cuff, but that’s about it. A good mental health clinician who cares for young children will have toys, games and things to draw with. Still, let your child know that she can bring some of her own toys. Explain that this is the kind of doctor who helps you with your angry feelings, or your sad feelings, or your confused feelings. This isn’t the doctor that you see when you have a cough.
For teens, it’s a harder sell. Remember that teens are very tuned in to what others might think of them, and even to what they think of themselves. They’ll also have more insight into why they’re being asked to go in the first place. You’ll therefore have to spend less time explaining what a mental health clinician does, and more energy making clear to your teen why he should go. Tell your teen that you’re worried. Tell him that you’d like him to go for you. Heck, bribe him! But seriously, figure out what could make it worth his while. Sometimes schools or sports teams will mandate treatment or at least an evaluation. If that’s the case, make these stipulations clear to your teen. Don’t expect this to be easy, but don’t relent either. Chances are that you have good reason to want this evaluation. You’ll feel more comfortable, and your teen will feel more comfortable once you’re able to worry less.
Clearly, these are generalizations. Still, we hope these guidelines will help you negotiate getting your son or daughter in the door. In the next post, we’ll focus on what to expect once your child’s treatment begins.