Questions about your Child Seeing a Psychiatrist

What is a child psychiatrist?

A child psychiatrist is a doctor who has completed 4 years of medical school and then at least 5 years of training in mental health. Two of those 5 years were spent learning how to work with children with mental health difficulties. CHA’s Department of Psychiatry offers mental health services (medication and many forms of psychotherapy) to children, adolescents, adults and families that are provided by a multidisciplinary staff and trainees.

Is a child psychiatrist the same as a therapist?

The answer is both yes and no. A therapist may be a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or nurse, all of whom may provide psychotherapy. Psychiatrists and some nurses may prescribe medication. Psychologists can do intelligence and school educational testing.

What should I expect in the first visit with the psychiatrist?

When you meet a psychiatrist for the first time, they will ask you questions that will help them understand what is happening with your child/dependent. Some questions to expect:

  • Who lives in the home with the child/dependent?
  • What school does the child attend?
  • What has led to your child seeing a psychiatrist?
  • Did someone recommend that your child see a psychiatrist?
  • How has your child been behaving, feeling, and thinking?
  • What are your child’s relationships like at home and at school?
  • Has your child been diagnosed with a mental health problem by someone else (like the primary care provider)?
  • Has your child been hospitalized or taken medications for mental health difficulties?
  • Does your child have any medical issues (e.g. asthma, seizures)?
  • Is there anyone in your own family (e.g. grandparents, aunts, uncles) who has had mental health difficulties?
  • Has your child ever been harmed emotionally, physically, or sexually?
  • Has your child been speaking or acting in a dangerous way toward themselves or others?

You might also want to think of your own questions for the psychiatrist to answer. Think about what matters most to you about your child’s difficulties, and what you want to have happen. Some examples of questions parents ask include:

  • What is my child’s diagnosis?
  • What is the recommended way to treat my child’s mental health difficulties?
  • If medication is recommended:
    • How long will the medication last each day?
    • What are the side effects of taking the medications?
    • What good things can I expect the medication to do?
    • What happens if my child misses a dose?
    • How long will my child need to be on the medication?
  • If therapy is recommended:
    • Is there a specific type of therapy recommended for my child?
    • How long will my child be in therapy?
    • What will you and my child talk about in therapy?

Who will be present during the meeting with the psychiatrist?

  • In the first appointment, you (parent/guardian) will be invited to join your child in the psychiatrist’s office. The psychiatrist might ask to speak to you or your child alone during the appointment.
  • In hospitals that train student health care professionals, like Cambridge Health Alliance, the psychiatrist might ask if their students (in medicine or nursing) or residents (in psychiatry or pediatrics) can be present during the evaluation. You should be asked for permission before the student or resident is allowed to join. It is okay to say no, and your child’s treatment will not be affected. If you do allow students to join, they are required to keep everything private.

Will I have to fill out paperwork?

  • The psychiatrist might have you sign paperwork to give permission to talk to other doctors, providers and school.
  • You may also be asked to fill out paperwork to help monitor your child’s feelings and behaviors. You may be given paperwork for your child’s school to complete.