What does a Child Psychologist do and will our family benefit from seeing one?

Even though emotional and behavioural problems and psychological disorders have become increasingly accepted in modern society, the thought of going to see a psychologist can still be nerve-wracking! However, knowing what to expect can ease your nerves and make both you and your child feel a bit more comfortable.
 
What is a psychologist?
 
A Psychologist is someone who has completed a minimum of six years education and training. In the same way that some doctors continue their studies and specialise in areas such as psychiatry, paediatrics or obstetrics, psychologists also specialise in one of a number of areas of psychology. The Australian Psychological Society (APS) identifies 9 specialist areas of psychology, one of which is clinical psychology.
 
A Clinical Psychologist is a highly trained practitioner who has completed a Master of Clinical Psychology degree. Clinical psychologists have specialist training in the assessment and diagnosis of major mental illnesses and psychological problems. They are also trained in the delivery of a range of techniques and therapies with demonstrated effectiveness in treating mental health conditions that range from mild to severe and complex. They are specialists in applying psychological theory and scientific research to solve complex clinical psychology problems requiring individually tailored interventions. Most clinical psychologists develop expertise in specific areas, or practice in sub-specialisations of clinical psychology. Nicole Letch at Therapia has developed specific expertise in child, adolescent and family psychology (children and young people up to the age of 18 and their families).
 
When should I seek help from a child psychologist?
 
You should consider seeking help from a child psychologist if:
 
• you have used your common sense, together with the advice of others and nothing seems to work
• the relationship with your child has deteriorated and you no longer see yourself as competent and in charge, and do not know how to change this
• your child is clearly unhappy and you have no clue how to shift this
• there has been a sudden change in your child’s behaviour and he/she will not speak to you about it.
 
Significant life events — such as the death of a family member, friend, or pet; divorce or a move; abuse; trauma; a parent leaving on military deployment; or a major illness in the family — can cause stress that might lead to problems with a child or young person’s behavior, mood, sleep, appetite, and academic or social functioning.
 
In some cases however, it’s not as clear what’s caused a child to suddenly seem withdrawn, worried, stressed, sulky, or tearful. But if you feel your child might have an emotional or behavioral problem or needs help coping with a difficult life event, trust your instincts.
 
You may like to consider seeking help from a child psychologist if you observe the following signs or symptoms in your child:
 
• Problems with sleep
• Frequent nightmares or night terrors
• A significant drop in school marks, particularly if your child or young person normally does well
• Unusual or bizarre behaviours
• Intense or unusual fearfulness
• Sadness, crying
• Clinginess
• Regressed behaviour (reverting back to behaviour from an earlier age)
• Problems with attention or learning
• Frequent anger outbursts or temper tantrums
• Feeling so worried, stressed, or afraid that they can’t sleep, have fun, or enjoy school
• Sudden changes in appetite (particularly in adolescents)
• Unusually aggressive behaviour (such as biting, kicking, or hitting)
• Lack of appropriate emotional response
• Hyperactivity
• Hearing voices or talking to people who aren’t there
• Development of or an increase in physical complaints (such as headache, stomach ache, or not feeling well) despite a normal physical exam by your doctor
• Frequent irritability
• Problems in transitions (following separation, divorce, or relocation)
 
Children who aren’t yet school-age could also benefit from child psychologist if there’s a significant delay in achieving developmental milestones such as walking, talking, and potty training, and if there are concerns regarding autism or other developmental issues.
 
Keep in mind that all psychological problems have a unique combination of potential signs and symptoms. A child with depression, for example, is going to exhibit very different symptoms than a child with a phobia. Also, some of the symptoms on this list could be situational (for example, a child that is sick may be quite irritable and not sleep well until he feels better) or resolve on their own over time. However, if they have been present for a while, it may be beneficial to seek advice from a child psychologist.
 
Seeing a child psychologist
 
Coming to see Nicole at Therapia is not unlike visiting your doctor’s office. Upon arrival, you will check-in with Melissa Petrus, our Practice Manager, and wait for your appointment time. You will be asked to fill out some forms and a questionnaire, so please arrive a little early. The questionnaire asks about your child/young person’s past and current behavior, emotional and social functioning and academic performance.
 
Different situations will require different interventions, but here’s what a typical process might look like.
 
The first meeting
 
If your child is Under 10 years old, the first interview is with the parents only. Efforts will be made to get both parents to come (where both parents have contact with the child). Having the input of both parents helps with the understanding and planning of the intervention.
 
Some child psychologists prefer to have young children present in these first meetings. At Therapia, we believe that while it helps to know what children think about their parents’ comments and it is useful to observe how parents and their children interact, our priority is to ensure that parents are able to speak candidly about their concerns, without worrying how that will affect their children.
 
If your child is aged 10 or over, the first interview will be with the child/young person and parents together. You may be concerned that your child will become upset when told of an upcoming visit with a psychologist. Although this is sometimes the case, it’s essential to be honest about the session and why you and your child will be going. The issue will come up during the first meeting, but it’s important for you to prepare your child for it.
 
Explain to your child that this type of visit to the doctor doesn’t involve a physical exam or needles. You may also want to stress that this type of doctor talks and plays with children and families to help them solve problems and feel better. Children might feel reassured to learn that the psychologist will be helping the parents and other family members too.
 
Young people may be reassured to hear that anything they say to the psychologist is confidential and cannot be shared with anyone else, including parents or other doctors, without their permission — the exception is if they indicate that they’re being hurt by someone, having thoughts of suicide or are hurting themselves or others.
 
Giving kids this kind of information before the first appointment can help set the tone, prevent your child from feeling singled out or isolated, and provide reassurance that the family will be working together on the problem.
 
The goal of the first meeting is to learn about the child’s unique strengths, skills, resources and qualities, and to understand what is getting in the way of the child’s success. Details about when those problems appeared, what triggers them, what has helped reduce those problems, what hasn’t helped and what impact the problems have had on the child and the family will also be gathered.
 
At the first meeting, children aged 10 years and over will be given the option of speaking alone without their parents present. Some children prefer to discuss themselves without their parents present while others feel more comfortable and secure with parents remaining quietly in the room. This is a matter of individual preference and any decisions made will be respected. In our experience, initially, many children often respond in a defensive manner (“Nothing’s wrong”, “I don’t know”) or a defeated manner (“Nothing works”, “I’m just stupid”). At Therapia we fully appreciate that it takes time to build trust and to build the child’s capacity to respond more constructively. So, do not despair if your child behaves like this!
 
Some parents are often frustrated when advice is not given right at the start. They have a problem and they want it solved! However, please bear in mind that it is only possible to make an effective treatment plan once a full understanding of the situation is gained and this make take time; depending upon a number of factors such as the complexity, chronicity of the problem (how long it has been going on) and so on.
 
In most cases, one meeting is not enough to thoroughly understand the concerns, gather adequate information about the child and form a plan of what to do, so a further meeting is likely to be arranged. Sometimes, it may also be necessary to gather information from the child/young person’s school e.g. is your child paying attention in class? What’s his or her behavior like at recess and with peers? However this will only be done with parental permission.
 
In some cases, Nicole may feel there is another professional who may be more effective in helping you with your particular concerns (e.g. paediatrician, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist or another psychologist). If this is the case, Nicole will put you in direct contact with someone else who can help you.
 
Second meeting and onwards
 
Depending upon the nature of the concerns, subsequent meetings with the child psychologist may then take a number of different formats. They may be with:
 
1) parents alone
2) the child/young person alone, or
3) the child/young person with parents.
 
Nicole will discuss her opinion about the most effective treatment plan with you.
 
For some types of problems (e.g. obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD or a phobia) the child/young person will need to be seen directly by the child psychologist (with or without their parents present). For other problems, it is still be possible for your child to be helped by a child psychologist without them even having to come into the office! In these cases, the child psychologist will give the parents the advice on how to manage the concerns at home.
 
How much does it cost to see a child psychologist?
 
An appointment with Nicole is charged at $230 per hour or $260 per hour if the appointment is after hours. However you may be entitled to a rebate either through Medicare or your private health fund.
 
To be eligible for a rebate through Medicare the person attending the sessions will need to see their GP and establish a Mental Health Care Plan. Under this you would be entitled to a rebate on up to 10 sessions per calendar year.
 
To find out what rebate you are entitled to through your Private Health Fund just contact your provider.
 
The other option is to attend as a private client in which case no refund would be applicable.
 
For more information or to arrange an appointment with Nicole you can contact Therapia on 8364 3811 or email info@therapia.net.au alternatively you can fill in the contact form on our website.
 

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