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Types of Emotional Help Available for Your Child

At a Glance

  • Children who learn and think differently are more likely to be diagnosed with mental health issues than their peers.

  • Psychotherapist is a general term to describe professionals who evaluate and treat mental health disorders.

  • Not all psychotherapists provide the same services.

It might not surprise you that children who learn and think differently may also struggle emotionally. Research shows that these kids are four to six times more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder than other kids their age.

Deciding that your child needs outside help with emotional issues can be tough. But getting kids the help they need can make a big difference in their life.

There are many kinds of services available, but they’re all generally called psychotherapy. This is because they all provide therapy for mental health issues. Not all of the professionals who provide these services have the same training or can meet the same needs. So it’s important to choose the option that works best for you and your child.

Here’s a brief look at some of the choices you may have when your child needs psychotherapy. Make sure whichever professional you choose is licensed to practice in your state.

School Psychologists

Training: Master’s degree (some schools may require a PhD). Specializes in school psychology and education.

How they can help: School psychologists can observe your child in the context of everyday life and counsel your child. There’s no charge for the service, and individual counseling can be added to your child’s (IEP), if your child has one.

Possible drawbacks: You or your child might not feel comfortable with the particular psychologist on the school’s staff. And your child may feel self-conscious about having sessions in school. A school psychologist who doesn’t have a PhD may be trained to focus on school-related issues and not have the background to handle broader issues. Additionally, if your child doesn’t already have an IEP, it can take time to set one up so your child can get the counseling they need.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW)

Training: Master’s degree in social work. Has training and a license to provide individual and group psychotherapy.

How they can help: LCSWs can evaluate your child and provide therapy. LCSWs may be more affordable and accessible than other professionals, like psychologists.

Possible drawbacks: LCSWs don’t have the same in-depth training as psychologists. Some may not be as well-versed in learning and thinking differences.


Training: A doctoral degree in medicine, with four years of medical school, plus a four-year psychiatric residency.

How they can help: Psychiatrists can provide diagnoses and prescribe medication that may help with your child’s anxiety, depression, or other mental health issue. If a psychiatrist feels talk therapy is needed, they may provide that, too, or refer you to a therapist.

Possible drawbacks: Ongoing talk therapy with a psychiatrist can be expensive; many do not accept insurance. Some psychiatrists also may focus more on medication management than on therapy.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN)

Training: Master’s degree and/or doctoral degree in psychiatric mental health nursing. (Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, also called nurse practitioners or clinical nurse specialists, have doctoral degrees and earn additional degrees, such as a PhD or an EdD.)

How they can help: Certified nurse practitioners can evaluate your child and provide therapy. Many states also permit clinical nurse practitioners to prescribe medication.

Possible drawbacks: It may not be easy to find an APRN with a clinical practice in your area.


Training: Doctorate (PhD, PsyD), clinical practice, one-year residency, and postdoctoral training. Psychologists can have postdoctoral training in different specialties. You may want to find a psychologist who has received postdoctoral training in pediatrics.

How they can help: Psychologists are extensively trained to assess, diagnose, and treat learning and psychological issues.

Possible drawbacks: Psychologists can be expensive, and insurance may not cover all costs.

Mental Health Counselors

Training: Master’s degree in counseling or counseling-related work. (In some states, mental health counselors may be called professional counselors or clinical professional counselors.)

How they can help: Mental health counselors are trained to counsel you and your child. They’re usually less expensive than more extensively trained practitioners, like psychologists.

Possible drawbacks: The quality of training for mental health counselors can vary widely. Some very good practitioners are available, but even these ones generally don’t have an educational background in assessment and psychological theory.

Marriage and Family Therapists

Training: Master’s degree, at minimum; some may have a PhD and postdoctoral training.

How they can help: These practitioners are trained in therapy and family systems. They can treat emotional and mental illnesses in the context of the family. If your biggest concern is about how you and your child are relating to each other or how your child’s issues are affecting your family as a whole, this type of counseling may help.

Possible drawbacks: Family counseling on its own may not be enough to address your child’s individual emotional or mental health needs.

Your child’s doctor may be able to give you more options and guidance. No matter which professional you choose, be sure to check references carefully. Learn more about what to consider when looking for a therapist , and get more information on mental health issues in children .

Keep in mind that while training matters, a practitioner’s experience and the chemistry they have with you and your child have can be equally important.

Key Takeaways

  • A school psychologist can help your child at no cost to you, but might not have a background working with your child’s specific issues.

  • Psychiatrists, and in some areas, advanced psychiatric nurses, can prescribe medication.

  • Length and depth of experience and your comfort with a practitioner can matter more than the practitioner’s title or training.

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