Mental Health Professionals

Finding the right professional can be a daunting task for families. You want to make sure that the professional you choose has the right qualifications. You want professionals who have experience working with children and teens. Some professionals may also have other special qualifications, such as working with eating disorders, or counseling gay and lesbian youth. Ideally, you want to find a provider who has the special skills to meet your child’s needs. Most insurance companies can give you some information about your treatment professional if you call their customer service number. If your child is Medicaid eligible, you can find out about your mental health professional’s credentials and specialty by calling the CHP Access to Care Line at 1-800-804-5008.

The following professionals may be involved in the evaluation, treatment and care of your child or teen. Each has a specific specialty, but is also part of the treatment team. The duties and responsibilities will vary in different agencies:

  • Psychiatrists are physicians (M.D. OR D.O.) with specific training in psychiatry. A psychiatrist will evaluate, make the diagnosis, and prescribe medications. Sometimes, a psychiatrist will give other kinds of treatment as well. They work with the treatment team to plan the care while your child is in the hospital and after discharge. Some psychiatrists also provide psychotherapy (counseling), either with your family, or with groups.

  • Psychologists have special training to evaluate and treat emotional disorders. In most states, a person who is licensed to practice clinical psychology has a Ph.D. Psychologists do psychological testing to help them make a diagnosis. They may also provide individual, group and family therapy. A school psychologist is trained to deal with behavior problems in the school setting. They are also trained to administer intelligence aptitude and achievement test. They may have other responsibilities similar to those described for psychiatric nurses and social workers.

  • Psychiatric nurses have specific training in mental health. They generally have responsibility for direct care of children and teens in a hospital setting, day treatment programs, and community mental health center clinics. They may also provide individual, group and family counseling.

  • Social workers work with the individual, family and community to coordinate care in many areas of a person’s life. Children and teens may be involved with numerous systems and care coordination is very important. He or she may offer individual, family or group counseling. The social worker can serve as a link between the family, the community and the agency providing treatment.

  • Counselors have special training in counseling principles to help their clients find solutions to problems. Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC’s) and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT’s) are trained to work with families and family issues. Both LPC’s and LMFT’s have master’s degrees.

  • Case managers coordinate care and services in the community. They help their clients get services from other community agencies. They generally work for a Community Mental Health Center or an agency under contract to Community Mental Health.

  • Indigenous healers are individuals who know about traditional healing practices. Many families have found practices such as curanderismo and Native American healing practices to be extremely helpful.

  • Client and Family Advocates are part of the team at community mental health center. Advocates work with the client or family to make sure their rights are protected, and help advocate for other kinds of services.

  • Peer and Family Peer Specialists are persons who have had personal experience with the mental health system. They have special training to help them use their personal experience to aid other clients or families. They work as part of the treatment team, and can help families find support groups or mentors.

Choosing a mental health professional

  • When choosing a provider, it is important that you know about your mental health provider’s credentials. If you or your child is Medicaid eligible, the work will have already been done. CHP and other Medicaid programs credential their providers. This means that they have guidelines for the professionals who practice within their network. In order for a provider to be part of their network, the provider must show proof of education and licensing, the provider must have spent a minimum amount of time in his or her practice (usually 3 years), and must have had any malpractice claims resolved.

  • If your child is not Medicaid eligible, or part of an HMO, contact the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) to verify their licensing.

  • Ask the professional for his or her background and experience.

  • Get a second opinion if you feel uncomfortable about the diagnosis or treatment that is prescribed.

  • It is just as important to feel comfortable with your therapist as it is to have a therapist with good credentials. If you or your child don’t relate well to the therapist, find another one.

  • Cost should be taken into consideration. Treating mental health problems can create financial burdens for the entire family. Financial problems can add to the already existing problems. Ask questions about cost upfront. If the mental health professional refuses to talk about cost, find one who will.

In the first meeting with your provider, there are also some questions you can ask to get an idea of her understanding of children’s and teen’s issues. The Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health suggests you ask your provider the following questions:

  • "How long have you been counseling families like mine?"
  • ‘What can you contribute to my family’s well being?"
  • "How often are you willing to meet with me and my family?"
  • "Are you willing to work with other service providers along with my family friends as a partner?
  • "Do you have any concerns about my family’s problems?"
  • "Are you willing to talk to me about my child’s issues?"
  • "Do you mind that I want to be involved in all the planning and decision-making about my family?"

Other Services

The following services may be offered in your community. To learn more, call your mental health center or CHP.

  • Home-based services for children and adolescents;
  • Vocational and employment services;
  • Intensive case management;
  • Respite services;
  • Drop-in centers;
  • Clubhouses;
  • Peer services and support services;
  • Peer mentoring for children and adolescents;
  • Assertive community treatment programs;
  • Warm (telephone support) lines;
  • Special services for adoption issues;
  • Early childhood intervention services;
  • Family support, education and training services;
  • Multi-systemic therapy;
  • Prevention services and early intervention activities;
  • Recovery services;
  • Supported employment.

Questions Parents Should Ask

Parents should always ask questions when a professional recommends mental health treatment for their child or adolescent. Questions parents should ask include:

  • What kind of treatment will be provided and by whom?
  • How long will my child be in this level of treatment?
  • What is the cost? How much of the cost will be covered by my insurance? (Medicaid eligible children and teens do NOT have co-pays for mental health care in Colorado).
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of this particular service or program?

If your are uneasy about the answers you get, or still have questions, get a second opinion about the best type of program for your child or adolescent. If your child or teen is Medicaid eligible and lives in one of the CHP counties, call 1-800-804-5008 to ask for a second opinion.