How To Find A Good Child Psychologist

12 Things you Must know before finding a Child Psychologist

If you are a parent who believes your child might benefit from seeing a child psychologist, first of all, you are not alone. I also know firsthand that the process can be extremely overwhelming. If you have no experience with the process, it can be quite intimidating to think about putting your precious child in the hand of a professional.

As a mother of three girls, I have had several situations where I thought I needed an outside professional opinion. For example, last year, my 10-year-old started hiding sandwiches in her closet and became extremely aware of her physical appearance. I noticed that she had started bringing back most of her lunch home after school and would only eat small quantities at mealtimes. First I told myself to ignore my instincts and just hope that her behavior would subside. However, after finding five sandwiches in her closet and other places, I decided that I should consult a psychologist. Since I suffered from both anorexia and bulimia and was aware of the genetic predisposition, I chose to be extra cautious and make sure there was nothing serious going on with my daughter. I am also fortunate enough to work with colleagues who are experts in eating disorders, so I had easy access to professional who could provide me with the support I needed. I realize, though, that for most parents and other caregivers, the search can be quite daunting and challenging.

If you are seeking a child psychologist, it is most likely because you have either noticed something is not right with your child in terms of behavior or performance, or a professional such as a pediatrician, school psychologist, teacher or a friend has suggested that they see someone for support.

Acknowledging your child needs help can be difficult, but unfortunately, the search can be even more difficult. One of LW Wellness’ child psychologists, Dr. Allison Patterson, a licensed psychologist and certified school psychologist, compiled a list to equip you with some knowledge before you begin your search.

Searching for a child psychologist could be a daunting task for parents.  Many are not sure how to start and what should even be considered. Here are some ideas of things to consider when searching for a child psychologist to be sure they are a good fit for your child AND your family.

Tip #1

Environment– Upon visiting a potential office, take special note of the environment and atmosphere of the office itself. You first want to be certain the psychologist’s office is child friendly and has developmentally appropriate toys or activities to engage your child.

Tip # 2

Experience– Inquire about the experience the psychologist has with your child’s age. A psychologist who specializes in adolescents may not be appropriate for your preschool aged child. Does the psychologist have experience working with schools and other related service providers? Understanding the school setting would be important since your child spends a significant amount of time in that environment. You want to find someone who has significant knowledge about the specific issues you are looking to address.

Tip #3

Theoretical Orientation– There are various theoretical orientations such as behavioral, cognitive behavioral, psycho-dynamic, or family systems. Some approaches provide more concrete strategies to implement and require interventions from the child’s environment. They may focus on the responses of the adults in your child’s life to enact positive changes. Others may be more long term, require more frequent visits, and may not include parents in the process. It’s important to have a brief understanding of the different orientations and be prepared to work with the psychologist.

Tip #4

Location– Consider the amount of time it would take to travel to and from the office.  The amount of time in transit should not exceed the session time. Some psychologists may even be available to work in your child’s naturalistic environment such as their school. This is sometimes helpful in developing skills in the environment where struggles may occur. For example, working on social skills in the context of the child’s peers may be most effective in enacting change and developing skills. Regardless, if getting to and from the psychologist’s office is a major burden on you and your child, it will become too much of a distraction from the work done in the session.

Tip #5

ScheduleBe certain that the time for the session is manageable for your child and your entire family’s schedule. Young children will be more available to benefit from treatment if they are not exhausted during the session. Also, consider availability for parent sessions.  Are evening hours or early AM appointments necessary for your family and if so, is that an option that is available? Find a time where the appointments aren’t disruptive but also can be made a priority.

Tip #6

FlexibilityTalk with your psychologist about his/her various approaches to helping children with their specific problems. Choosing a psychologist who develops a treatment plan based on your child’s specific needs rather than a set formula is crucial.

Tip #7

ConsultationIt is important for the psychologist to be able to consult with all the adults who care for the child to ensure consistency. This could include parents, teachers, caretakers, speech pathologists or occupational therapists.  A multidisciplinary approach to treatment with children allows the psychologist to gain a better understanding of the child’s struggles and provide support in various environments.

Tip #8

Parent involvement and educationFind out how much parent involvement is expected and encouraged. If you are looking for tools to carry over in the home environment, be certain the psychologist is willing to meet with families. Is the psychologist available to answer questions, respond to emails or be available for phone calls? Evaluate your own commitment and willingness to attend sessions independent of your child. Consider the amount of time you are willing to invest.

Tip #9

Fee- It is important to consider the fee, insurance reimbursement possibilities and inquire about what is covered in that fee.  Are consultations with teachers, caretakers, phone calls, team meetings included in the price or do they have a different fee scale.  Some therapists rates may be higher but they include some consultation. For example, they may not bill for a 20 minute conversation with the child’s speech therapist.

Tip # 10

Credentials– The term Licensed Psychologist is a regulated term by New York State.  Other professionals can call themselves psychotherapists, counselors, or behaviorists but the term psychologist is a regulated term that only those who went through rigorous training and supervision are entitled to use. Further, insurance companies often provide reimbursement only to those with the License Psychologist credential. One must achieve a doctorate to be considered for licensure but not all doctors have the license.

Tip #11

Background check- For safety, it may be good practice to inquire about a background check prior to allowing a professional to work with your child

Tip #12

Temperament– Many parents choose to have either a phone consultation or meet the psychologist at the office prior to committing to ongoing treatment for their child. In this meeting, you as a parent could also assess if the psychologist would be a good fit for you and your child. Is the therapist’s temperament one that could fit with your own? Trust your instincts — if you don’t feel comfortable chances are it is not a good fit.

The above tips are important to keep in mind when seeking a child psychologist near you. It is also important to familiarize yourself with prominent figures in the child psychology world, which will help empower you as a parent to make smart decisions and to be an educated consumer when looking for a child psychologist. While there are several figures, the three I find most useful for parents seeking a child psychologist are Adler, Erikson and Piaget.

No worries, I will not be giving you too much information, but only information that I believe can empower you as a parent and as a consumer seeking a child psychologist.

Let’s start with my favorite psychiatrist who is also trained in psychotherapy: Alfred Adler. He worked closely with Sigmund Freud, whom I am sure many of you are familiar with, but Adler is best known for his approach of looking at the individual as a whole. Adler believed that when children feel that they are not loved and don’t belong to this world they develop feelings of inferiority (what he called an inferiority complex). According to Adler, what people, particularly children, need most is a kiss and a hug and to be empathetically seen for who they truly are. Only then will they be able to be what they were truly meant to be in this life. Think about this for a moment. Think about yourself as a child or as an adult. How would you feel if your parent or friends saw you for who you are and loved and accepted you unconditionally and supported you throughout your journey? What are your passions? What would you have truly done if you could have choices without the social, parental or other societal constraints that might have pressured you? You don’t have to answer at this moment, but when it comes to our children, it is important to be aware of this. Now, think of this in the context of seeking a child psychologist. Are you seeking a child psychologist because you think your child is performing according to your expectations? Are they realistic? What are they based on? It might be a good idea to write these down and share with the child psychologist you choose. We often project our own anxieties and insecurities onto our children and as a result they develop anxieties and take on some of the parents’ fears, insecurities, etc.   

The next theorist that I think you will appreciate learning about is Erikson, who is best known for his psycho social theory. Erikson developed eight stages of development and a virtue associated with each of these stages. His stages are age appropriate trust vs. mistrust (age 0-18 months, virtue = Hope). Autonomy vs. shame and doubt (18 month- 3 years, virtue = Will), initiative vs. guilt (3-5y years, virtue= Purpose), industry vs. inferiority (5-13 years, Virtue = Competence), Ego identity vs. role confusion (12-18 years, virtue= Fidelity), intimacy vs isolation (18-40 years, virtue = Love), generativity vs. stagnation (40-65 years, virtue= Care), ego integrity vs. despair (65+ years, virtue= Wisdom). He focused on how people’s sense of identity develops and how people develop or fail to develop abilities and beliefs about themselves, which allows them to become productive, satisfied members of society.

Thinking about my three girls (ages 8,10 and 13), I found it helpful to think about their development in the context of Erikson’s stages because it helped me as a parent put things in perspective. For example, my daughter Shiloh, who is 8 years old, for the most part feels a sense of competence. During this stage of her development (Stage # 4 Industry Vs. Inferiority) I encouraged and reinforced her to take initiative and achieve her goals. However, if a child at that age is not encouraged, or restricted, then the child will begin to feel inferior and therefore will not reach full potential.

I also have great respect for Piaget because he was the first psychologist to make a systematic study of cognitive development. He was able to show that young children think considerably different than adults. Here are Piaget’s stages of development:. Sensorimotor (Birth-24 months), Preoperational (2-7 years) Concrete Operational (7-12 years) and Formal Operational (12 years-Adulthood).

Why are these important?

Piaget noted that all children shared certain developmental patterns. This can be helpful for you whether seeking a child psychologist or just curious about child development. They are easily understood. Back to the example of my 8-year-old, Shiloh, who is in the concrete operational stage (Age 7-12). I found it to be extremely helpful to read that Piaget found this to be a MAJOR turning point in the child cognitive development because it marks the beginning of logical or operational thought. This is good news for us parents! Because it means that the child can now work things internally in his head rather than physically try things out in the real world.  

You might think this is going too deep and you don’t need to know all of this, but the truth is, as a parent you have to be an active participant in your child’s therapy, so educating and empowering yourself with the basics of child psychology will help you be an educated consumer, ask the right questions and ultimately help your child succeed!

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

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