Remember the feelings you had as a child when you had to go to a doctor appointment or visit the dentist? It may have been scary, confusing, and – even if you knew and liked the doctor – pretty unsettling. For children and their parents visiting a psychiatrist for the first time, some of these same feelings can occur. Of course, it’s never really as bad as we imagine as kids, and the same is true now with mental health treatment. Let’s talk about what you can expect at your child’s first visit with the psychiatrist, and how you can help ease the stress for both of you.
What is a psychiatrist, and what can they do?
You might be wondering why your child was referred to a psychiatrist in the first place. It’s a valid question. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental illness … much like your child’s pediatrician can diagnosis an infection and prescribe an antibiotic. You may be referred by your child’s therapist, family doctor, or by an assessor at a mental health facility. Here’s why:
A psychiatrist will be able to prescribe medications or other treatments for your child. They are also highly trained in understanding the symptoms of mental illness and developing a plan to resolve the problem.
What to expect at your child’s first visit
The first visit is a time for you, your child and the doctor to get to know one another. The psychiatrist will want to know about any difficulties or challenges they are dealing with. They will ask your child about a number of possible symptoms, and also ask about any medical or previous mental health issues.
The initial visit will differ depending on the age of the child and the situation. For very young children, the parent will most likely be in the room to help the doctor understand the situation. Older children may benefit from having some time one-on-one with the psychiatrist without the parent present. Some kids may be able to talk more freely without Mom or Dad in the room … and that’s perfectly OK!
Whether you are in the room for the entire appointment or not, the doctor will review their assessment with you, along with the recommended follow-up plan. That might involve specific testing, more specialized assessment, or a medical therapy.
Be sure to ask questions if there’s anything you don’t understand. A good psychiatrist will be happy to explain and spend the time it takes until you are all feeling comfortable about moving forward.
How to prepare for your child’s visit
Keep in mind that you aren’t the only one who is anxious! Your child undoubtedly has questions and concerns, and maybe even fears. What kind of doctor is this? Will I get shots? Will it hurt? Talk to your child and ask them how they are feeling, and if they have any questions. Share what you are learning about the process.
When planning for your first visit, remember to bring:
- A list of any symptoms or concerns your child has; get the child’s help in creating this list if they are old enough to do so
- Your insurance card and a list of any current medications your child is taking
- Your child’s medical and mental health history if you have it
Trying anything new can be a little stressful. Help your child understand that visiting the psychiatrist is often the first step toward a happier, more successful life for your child.
With an eye to the best for our kids,
Michele Autenrieth Brown is the director of development for Clarity Child Guidance Center. She became passionate mental health advocate after trying to navigate the system of care to support a family member. When she is not shuttling kids to practices or spending time with her husband, Michele is perfecting just what to say to get the perfect eye roll and sigh from her teen and pre-teen children.
If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 9-1-1. If you need help locating mental health resources in your area, visit the Bexar County Community Resource website, call your local health department or the National Alliance Mental Illness's helpline at 800-950- NAMI (6264).