For parents who struggle for years to get their children to seek help, treatment might seem like the final step in the journey toward wellness. After your child enters treatment, it can take months or even years to find the right approach, and the process can be deeply discouraging. There's no way to guarantee that your child gets the right treatment on the first try. But by carefully evaluating your treatment options, you can expedite the journey to a happier, healthier child. If you're involved with your child's treatment, you can ask questions directly. Even if your adult child undertakes treatment as a solo venture, though, you can provide him with the information he needs to find what works for him.

Understand Your Child's Challenges

Before your child begins searching for treatment providers, she needs a strong understanding of the issues with which she struggles. A treatment provider who specializes in anger management might not be well-equipped to treat someone with trauma or drug addiction. Pinpointing your child's specific challenges can help you more effectively choose a treatment plan. If your child already has a diagnosis, read everything you can about it. This empowers you to ask the right questions and choose a treatment provider who utilizes cutting-edge treatments.

Compare Treatment Professionals

Treatment professionals come in every shape, size, and educational level, and more education doesn't always mean a better provider. Your child may need a team of professionals depending upon her needs, so it's important to have an understanding of the basic treatment options. Some of the most common mental health professionals you'll encounter include:

• Psychiatrists – These mental health professionals have a medical degree, and can therefore prescribe medication. Some psychiatrists work alongside therapists, offering medication to supplement therapy.  Others work solo and refer to therapists in other clinics. Nowadays, a small percentage of psychiatrists offer both therapy and medication management. This is incredibly rare due to the shortage of prescribing clinicians.  If your child is hospitalized or undergoes inpatient treatment, he will almost certainly have a psychiatrist.

• Psychologists – Psychologists are often called therapists, but they have a doctorate degree-- either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. Many psychologists are highly specialized in a specific psychological issue, and some conduct research. Unless a psychologist also has a medical degree, he won't be able to prescribe medication.

• Therapists – Therapists have, at minimum, a master's degree and include marriage and family therapists, licensed clinical social workers, licensed professional counselors, and similar professionals. They cannot prescribe medication.  Instead, they focus on therapeutic techniques to help individuals cope, reframe negative thoughts, and combat their mental health symptoms.

• AD/HD Coaches – Coaching offers a pragmatic approach to the treatment of AD/HD symptoms.  Coaches use individualized and action-oriented approaches to combat these issues. Coaches are focused on developing productive habits and systems that lead to more productive lives.

Ask Plenty of Questions

Mental health treatment can cost thousands of dollars, so you don't want to invest money in a project that's doomed to failure. There's no guarantee that any specific treatment will work, but asking the right questions can help you ensure you've found someone who will work with your child rather than impose his own beliefs or practice inappropriate treatments. One recent study, for example, found that most people with PTSD were not receiving evidence-based treatments.  Screening your treatment provider at the outset can help you avoid such a debacle. Consider the following questions:

• What issues do you specialize in?

• What treatment modalities do you use? The provider's approach should coincide with current best practices and clinical research.

• What is your certification and education? Are you licensed?

• Do you work with families? Can you help our family work together to help my child?

• Tell me about your fee structure.

• How do you handle mental health crises?

• Under what conditions would you consider hospitalization?

• How long will treatment last, and how frequently will my child need to see you?

• What will you do if the first treatment plan doesn't work?

Establish Clear Goals

The goal of treatment is to get better. This might seem like a tautology, but clients can quickly become dependent on their treatment providers. If your child spends years in therapy with no progress, you have a problem. Consequently, your child needs to establish clear treatment goals at the beginning of therapy. She should ask her therapist or doctor the following questions:

• What is the treatment plan? What methods are we using?

• How can I measure progress? How will I know if I'm getting better?

• How will I know if I'm getting worse?

• What are the side effects of this treatment? What side effects warrant immediate medical intervention?

• What are the alternatives to this particular treatment?

• What will you do if I disagree with you about treatment?

Perhaps most importantly, follow your instincts. If your child feels uncomfortable with a particular treatment provider, it's time to move on. You'll need to practice patience because treatment can take several months, but the best treatment providers will help set your expectations, giving you a good idea of what kind of progress you can expect to see.


Mayo Clinic Staff. (2011, March 17). Mental health providers: Tips on finding one. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from

 Most with PTSD getting the wrong therapy. (2013, April 14). UPI. Retrieved from

Questions to ask when interviewing a potential therapist [PDF]. (n.d.). The Sidran Institute.

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