How to find the best child psychiatrist for you
Although it may feel overwhelming, finding a psychiatrist for your child can be an important first step to getting them the support they need to thrive. So, if you’ve made the decision to seek out mental health care for your child and are searching for a psychiatrist that specializes in child psychiatry, know that we are here to help you through it. We consulted our child and adolescent psychiatrists for tips on how to find the best psychiatrist for your child.
Read on to learn about child and adolescent psychiatry and how to find a psychiatrist that’s the right fit for your family’s needs.
Understanding the role of child psychiatrists
Child and adolescent psychiatrists (CAP) are psychiatrists who specialize in treating children and teens with behavioral and emotional challenges, but they also have experience in adult psychiatry and often work with adults in addition to youngsters. In addition to being highly trained in medication management and diagnosing complex mental health conditions in children and adolescents, child and adolescent psychiatrists also have years of experience in topics like family dynamics, the impact of trauma, how to engage kids during a session, and how underlying medical conditions can present with certain psychiatric symptoms.
Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists are medical doctors and practice evidence-based medicine. Along with completing 4 years of medical school and 3 to 4 years of a residency program for general psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatrists attend an additional 2-years of specialty training in the field of child and adolescent psychiatry.
How do I know if my child needs to see a psychiatrist?
If your child is struggling in school, at home, or with relationships, and you suspect it may be related to their mental health, a child and adolescent psychiatrist can help evaluate your child’s needs and recommend the best care for them, whether that’s with a psychiatrist, speech therapist, counselor, or a different type of specialist. Making an appointment with a child and adolescent psychiatrist doesn’t necessarily mean your child has a mental health condition or will be diagnosed with one. You can think of it more like a first step towards ensuring your child is getting the care they need.
Here are some other general signs that may indicate your child could benefit from professional support:
- Behavioral issues at school or home
- Trouble sleeping
- Changes in hygiene or eating
- Withdrawal from favorite activities or isolation
- A recommendation from your child’s teacher
- A recommendation from your child’s pediatrician
- Excessive screen time: social media, video games, etc.
Want to learn more about different types of mental health providers? Check out: What’s the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?
How do I find the best psychiatrist for my child?
It can be difficult to know if a particular psychiatrist is a good fit for your child until your child has their first session. But before you book the first appointment, there are a few different things you can do to help your search.
Schedule a phone consult
Most psychiatrists will offer, or even require, a ~15-minute phone consultation before you schedule your first appointment. This can be an important step, as it will give you a chance to briefly explain your family’s needs. You should be able to get a feel for the doctor's style and personality. Did you feel listened to? Was the doctor patient? Friendly? You can also use the consultation time to ask questions about their experience, expertise, and methods of treatment.
Be open to virtual appointments
It can be hard to find a psychiatrist that checks all the boxes. Finding a psychiatrist that is affordable, has availability, is accepting new patients, and is a good fit for your family is challenging—especially if you live in an area where there are not many options. Consider opening up your search to include psychiatrists that offer virtual care. You may find that you have more doctors to choose from and research has found that, depending on your needs, virtual care can be just as effective as in-person care.
Search for specialties
If you already have an idea of what your child’s needs are, you can narrow your search for doctors by specialty. For example, some child and adolescent psychiatrists may specialize in autism spectrum disorder or ADHD while others may specialize in OCD or anxiety disorders. Most search websites like Zocdoc.com or PsychologyToday.com will let you select specific search fields.
Types of child psychiatric services
If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, there are several types of care that they may benefit from including individual therapy or counseling, family therapy, outpatient care, inpatient care, or medication management. Knowing where to start can be confusing. And while there is no wrong place to start, booking an appointment with a psychiatrist or primary care doctor are great options. A child and adolescent psychiatrist will be able to evaluate your child’s needs and recommend an appropriate course of treatment, whether that is with a psychiatrist or another medical provider.
To learn more about Child and Adolescent psychiatry at Talkiatry check out: Psychiatry that helps kids thrive.
Accessing child and adolescent psychiatry services
If you’re ready to find a psychiatrist for your child, you may be wondering where to start. Here are some simple steps you can take:
Consult your child' s pediatrician
Your child’s pediatrician is a great place to start your search for a child and adolescent psychiatrist. They may have a network of psychiatrists that they’ve worked with and trust and can provide you with a referral. Keep in mind though, that the psychiatrist(s) your child’s pediatrician recommends may or may not take your insurance. If you are planning to use insurance to pay for care, call the psychiatrist's office ahead of your first appointment to verify.
Check your insurance plan
Understanding your insurance coverage will help you evaluate the potential cost of any mental health services and determine the next steps for finding a medical provider. For example, your plan may or not require you to get a referral from a primary care doctor, school counselor, or other health professionals involved in your child’s care. You will also want to ask your insurance provider about behavioral health coverage. They may only cover certain services, or you may be paying out of pocket until you hit your deductible.
Talkiatry has partnered with over 60 insurance partners around the United States. Learn more about whether or not your insurance plan is accepted here.
Research available child and adolescent psychiatrists in your area
Websites like Zocdoc.com and PsychologyToday.com are helpful places to start your search for a doctor. You can filter your search based on availability, specialty, insurance accepted etc. The psychiatrists you find on Zocdoc.com or PsychologyToday.com may be part of a group practice or may be operating individually. Either way, you can use the contact information provided on their profile to reach out about setting up a phone consult or booking a first session.
If you have a medical center near your home, you can also check their website directly to see if they have a child and adolescent psychiatry department. From there, you should be able to call or search for their doctor’s availability online.
Reach out to multiple providers
If you are contacting psychiatrists individually (rather than going through a larger psychiatry practice), you may want to consider sending a message to a few different clinicians. Some may not have the availability you need or accept your insurance, so it never hurts to message a few different providers and then narrow your search after you receive responses.
Choosing the right psychiatrist who’s a good match for your child
The relationship your child builds with their psychiatrist is an important one. If your child likes and trusts their psychiatrists, they will have more productive sessions and be more engaged in their treatment. For this reason, it’s important to find a psychiatrist that your child connects with. It can take some time to find the right match. Try and be patient with the process and involve your child in decision-making as much as possible.
Making the first appointment
When you schedule your child’s first appointment, the doctor or office administrator will discuss any forms you will need to provide and additional steps to prepare. If you have questions about how the first session will go and what to expect, don’t be afraid to ask! Appointment structure may vary from practice to practice or doctor to doctor but in general, you can expect the first visit to be 60 minutes and include an evaluation. The doctor will ask you and your child questions about health history, family history, current symptoms, and treatment goals. You can expect to be present for the entire appointment but depending on your child’s age and needs, the doctor may ask to speak with your child without you present.
Follow-up and continued treatment
Mental health treatment doesn’t end after the first appointment. It’s important to start your child’s mental health journey with the expectation that it may take some time to settle on an appropriate treatment plan and to start to see improvements in your child's mood, behavior and mental wellness. Attending all follow-ups, monitoring your child’s progress, and communicating with your child’s doctor will help give your child the best chance of successful treatment and long-term well-being.
The bottom line
If your child is struggling with their mental health or wellness, connecting them with a psychiatrist or another mental health provider is an important step to ensuring their well-being. Child and adolescent psychiatrists are medical doctors specialized in diagnosing and treating complex mental health conditions in children, adolescents, and teens. Websites like Zocdoc.com and PsychologyToday.com are helpful places to start your search for a doctor. Consider contacting your insurance company beforehand to ensure you fully understand your child’s coverage and cost expectations.
Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat children and adult patients with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, trauma, PTSD, ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.
The information in this article is for educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.
Dr. Illise Perlmutter is the Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Talkiatry. She is double board-certified in child and adolescent psychiatry and adult psychiatry.
Before joining Talkiatry, Dr. Perlmutter was the Chair of Behavioral Health and Addiction Services at Bergen New Bridge Medical Center. Prior to Bergen New Bridge, she was the Director of Inpatient Psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center-Wakefield, in New York. Over 35 years, Dr. Perlmutter has held numerous leadership roles with some of the largest hospital systems in the New York Metro Area.
Dr. Perlmutter is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, a Fellow of the American College of Psychiatrists, and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She has received awards for her contributions both locally and nationally. Dr. Perlmutter was included in Castle Connolly’s “America’s Top Doctors” list from 2006-2011 and 2017, as well as “Best Doctors in America” from 2009-2012.
Dr. Perlmutter received her MD from George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. After an internship in pediatrics, she completed a residency in Psychiatry at Mt. Sinai Medical Center followed by a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Columbia University/New York State Psychiatric Institute. Dr. Perlmutter has held leadership roles in several academic institutions and is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Perlmutter has authored numerous publications and research articles and has lectured and presented extensively on clinical, epidemiologic, and psychopharmacologic issues in child and adolescent psychiatry. She has made frequent media appearances addressing topical issues in Disaster Psychiatry in the course of her work in Disaster Psychiatry Outreach.