Family & relationships

June 21 2018

How to choose a psychologist for your child

Lyn O'Grady
By Community psychologist

Taking the first step can be daunting. But these simple questions can help you find the right psychologist for your young ones

Are you concerned about your child’s social skills or learning? Have you observed some behaviour that worries you? Support from a psychologist can do so much to help your child overcome challenges relating to their mental health and wellbeing. Yet when it comes to finding the right help, many parents can feel lost.

Why choose a psychologist?

There are many professionals working in child wellbeing, learning and mental health but not all have the extensive education of psychologists. Australian psychologists have a minimum of six years of training in human development, behaviour and emotion. To practice as a psychologist they must be registered, which requires them to regularly update their skills.

Thanks to this education, psychologists are able to pick up subtle signs of childhood mental health issues, learning difficulties and developmental issues and can draw on many tests and treatments based on scientific evidence, to ensure your child receives effective help.

How to find a psychologist?

Trusted friends or health professionals who work with children are a useful starting point for finding a psychologist. Your GP can also help.

Early childhood centres and schools may be able to help connect you with local psychologists who work with children. Some schools have an onsite school psychologist who can see your child, or they may be able to recommend someone locally who they know has worked successfully with other families.

The Australian Psychological Society – Australia’s professional association for psychologists, with 24,000 members – has an online search at www.findapsychologist.org.au. You can search for a psychologist in your area that specialises in the particular issues your child is experiencing, such as friendships, . Some may even offer consultations to rural and remote clients using telehealth.

What does it cost?

For children with mental health issues, GPs and paediatricians can provide a referral to a psychologist under Medicare. Some rebates may also be available for children with autism. Many psychologists work via existing health services, or you may be able to access one privately. The cost of these services will vary but psychologists will be up front about the fee they will charge you, and even how many sessions they expect your child might need.

Who is the most appropriate psychologist for a child?

Most psychologists have a specific type of work they do – they might be an educational and developmental psychologist, be an expert in counselling, or they may have existing interests in disabilities and their impact on children.

It is worth narrowing your list of potential psychologists to a few and then speaking with them directly to see if they are right for your child, your family and this particular issue.

You may wish to ask the following:

  • What’s your background and training in working with children?
  • Have you worked with these particular issues before? What approaches do you use?
  • How do you involve parents? Do I need to attend?
  • What will happen in a typical session with my child?
  • How long should children and families typically work with you?
  • Do you contact my child’s school or healthcare providers?
  • Can you work with a client of my cultural background?
  • The most appropriate psychologist will vary according to the child, and may depend on their ways of working, psychological approach or place of work.
  • What is the cost?

The best most appropriate psychologist will be different for different children – depending on their ways of working, psychological approach and place of work. Keep in mind that even with a referral, you can make your own decision about which psychologist you would prefer your child to see.

What if my child is reluctant to see a psychologist?

Building a sense of trust and confidence in the psychologist is a critical part of treatment. Children who are worried or embarrassed may refuse to participate.

An experienced child psychologist will have strategies to overcome this, and should be able to build rapport quickly to put the child at ease. It may reassure your child that they will not be forced to attend,

Many children respond well to the suggestion that, just as doctors help with physical health, so a psychologist can help with emotional, mental or social challenges. Reassure them that sometimes just talking, to explore what is happening and what might help, can help them.  Psychologists won’t be looking to label children with problems, but will work constructively to help them.