When and how to seek professional help for yourself or your child?
My child is out of control! I cannot do this anymore! They are harming my other children and/or myself! These are all things I have heard from parents as a mental health counselor. People call and are completely desperate to have someone help "fix" their child and their broken and unhealthy family dynamics. When people wait until they have no other options and are completely at the end of their rope, the process of healing and creating positive change is much more difficult.
So...when do I recommend you reach out?
A bit about me first: I have worked for many years with children, adolescents, and their families in a variety of environments. First, as an ice hockey/goalie coach (when I was in my teens), next as an elementary school teacher in a first-grade classroom, next as an autism behavioral interventionist working with students one on one, then as a licensed clinical mental health counselor in a community mental health organization with my clinical focus being sexualized behavior/offending, externalizing behaviors, trouble with the law, and harm to self or others, and finally as a private practice clinician. My personal and occupational passion has always been working with people under 25 years of age who are struggling and helping them begin to make changes in their lives that will lead to a better future. A future filled with positivity, hope, and happiness, rather than one of crime, self-loathing, loneliness, and general dissatisfaction with their life. A majority of the time this involves working with their families/guardians as well. I have dedicated a significant amount of my life to learning how to help others help themselves and I have learned quite a bit from my experience thus far.
Back to the topic...
Have you ever noticed:
-That your child is withdrawing from their interests?
-That your child has been lashing out at others?
-That your child has been self-harming (e.g., hitting their head with hands or objects, cutting or scratching themselves, suicide/homicide attempts)?
-That your child has been harming or treating animals poorly or experimented with fire setting?
-Or more simply, your child has been through a difficult, possibly traumatic, experience and is not acting like themselves.
At the first sign of these issues or many other possible issues, you should reach out to a professional. Someone who is trained and has experience in working with this specific age demographic. Children are not small adults. They have their own psychological, physical, and emotional development, their own understanding of the world, and are just as unique as their adult counterparts. Many people and professionals treat them as if they are small adults and this is a huge mistake. Be sure to search for someone who specializes in what you and your child's specific needs are for your best chance at not having to repeat the tedious task of finding a clinician, meeting a new clinician, completing intake paperwork, developing a strong therapeutic relationship, etc... The best way to do this is by asking questions before paying for and agreeing to services, however, know that you can stop treatment at any time and find someone you can work with openly and someone with whom you feel a strong therapeutic connection. A few other important questions to ask yourself are how do they treat you and your child? Are they respectful and compassionate? Are they willing and able to say the difficult things to you and your child? Do they appear to care about your expertise as your child's parent?
There are many things someone seeking counseling for the first time may not know to even ask. This short article is not going to give you all of those answers. However, just remember some of the questions stated above when you begin your search or are just starting your work with a new clinician. If you feel the counselor has the qualifications and professionalism, as well as the positive connection with and respect for you and your child, you are on the right track to finding a quality mental health counselor. The first step is to make the call to someone you believe may be helpful to you if you are going through a difficult time. If this applies to you, start your search today. Check out your local area online and check out places like psychologytoday.com for help with your search.