The mental health field is as diverse as the people who access these providers and services are often tailored to meet individual needs. But how do you get started with finding a provider? This guide outlines basic steps to help you get started.
Step 1: Identify your Role and Goals
Before beginning your search for a mental health provider, it's important to understand your role and goals for the experience. Thinking critically about desired outcomes can help you focus on the best person to help you get there.
Step 2: Identify Patient Preferences
Working with a mental health provider can be an intimate process, so it's important that you find someone you are comfortable with. Identifying your preferences up front can help you to begin treatment successfully.
Step 3: Compare with Provider Specialties
Your provider's background and training often define the services they are capable of providing. Once you understand what you are looking for, it is helpful to compare your needs with provider specialties.
Step 4: Understand Treatment Options
Providers will offer different treatment options based on their skills, specialization and personal philosophies. Comparing these options to your goals and preferences can improve your outcome.
Understanding your role and goals for working with a mental health provider are a critical component to a successful outcome. In families, there are often three levels of participation:
Ask Yourself: Who will be meeting with the mental health provider? Just the child? The child and one parent? The entire family?
The decision of who will be meeting with the provider is interconnected with your family's overall goals. For example, if the overall goal is for the child to develop self-help skills, the entire family may only need limited involvement. The following is a general list of the types of goals families may have for working with a mental health provider:
Ask Yourself: What outcome are you hoping to achieve with this experience? Do you need a diagnosis? Do you already have a diagnosis and need an action plan to support your child? Are you looking for a combination approach?
TIP: Be realistic about the patient's willingness/ability to participate. You may need to work with the provider to move toward your ideal level of participation.
The key to forming a good relationship with a mental health provider is starting with someone who makes you feel comfortable. It's a good idea to make a short list of your preferences to help you with your search. Preferences may include:
Ask Yourself: Which of these are most important to the patient (or to you, as the parent/caregiver)? Which preferences are "must-haves?"
Remember: Preferences should be driven primarily by the patient who is seeing the provider (although parent/caregiver concerns may override).
Connecting for Kids has identified eight core specialties in mental health providers:
For detailed descriptions of these specialties, see our Mental Health Specialties Side-by-side Comparison.
Ask Yourself: What kind of provider does my family need? Does the provider I'm considering have the right skills? Is there a lower-cost or a higher-availability provider that could also fill our needs?
Watch a brief video on mental health provider specialties or show on YouTube
Each case is unique, so it only makes sense that there are a number of treatment options available to families. Some choices families may consider when deciding on treatment options include:
For detailed description, see our Treatment Options for Families.
Ask Yourself: What kind of treatment is the patient most comfortable with? Does the provider I'm considering offer the treatments I think will work best for my family?