Find a psychiatrist

How a psychiatrist can help your child

Aboriginal woman and her children smiling

Many children will have ups and downs in their feelings and behaviour as they grow up. 

Thoughtful care from family, friends and your child’s school can sometimes be enough to resolve these issues.

For more serious or persistent mental health issues, there are a range of professionals who can help.

Your GP or healthcare provider may recommend your child sees a psychiatrist if they:

  • struggle to complete daily tasks or enjoy themselves
  • express suicidal ideas or have self-harmed
  • are likely to need medication as part of their treatment
  • require admission to hospital
  • have hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there) or delusions (fixed ideas that are not true) 
  • have complex needs that require a team of doctors and other professionals 
  • continue to have problems despite help from other mental health professionals.

Seeing a psychiatrist is a positive step and will give your child the best chance of recovery.

Psychiatric treatment is very effective for children and adolescents with mental health issues.

The earlier a child gets the right help, the sooner they will feel better.

Find a psychiatrist

Child and adolescent psychiatrists

Child and adolescent psychiatrists are doctors who are experts in the mental health of children and young people. 

They can help children and their families to manage a broad range of conditions, including:

  • depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, self-harming, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder
  • trauma or stress-related disorders
  • ADHD
  • autism spectrum disorders
  • drug and alcohol issues
  • psychological aspects of disability or developmental conditions
  • complex medical issues that have psychological aspects 
  • reviewing medication that may influence a child’s mental health.

Skills and training 

Child and adolescent psychiatrists have completed a medical degree and specialist training in psychiatry. 

They have extra training in the sub-specialty of child and adolescent psychiatry.

Psychiatrists take a holistic approach, considering how emotions, social issues and physical symptoms interact.

Child and adolescent psychiatrists have specific skills in:

  • managing the mental health of children and adolescents 
  • assessing and managing family relationships
  • childhood emotional, social and behavioural development 
  • therapies designed for children and adolescents
  • coordinating care with other health professionals.

Treatments used in child and adolescent psychiatry

Psychological treatment

The most common treatment used with children is psychotherapy (‘talking therapy’). 

Some commonly used therapies are listed below.

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) 

A structured talking therapy that can help to change negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

Psychodynamic therapy

A talking, play or art-based therapy that considers how past experiences and relationships affect current behaviour.

Family therapy 

Where family members come together to identify issues, resolve problems and learn new skills for coping and communicating with one another.

More about psychological treatments

Medication

For some conditions, medication may be the best way to manage symptoms and make sure that your child can get back to their everyday activities.

Child and adolescent psychiatrists are experts at managing medication, side effects, and interactions.

More about medication for mental illness

Age groups treated

Child and adolescent psychiatrists see patients aged from birth to early adulthood. 

For young children, psychiatrists will mainly work with parents and caregivers. 

For older children and adolescents, the psychiatrist may work with the young person directly as well as the family.

If you are concerned about any aspect of your child’s treatment, your GP and psychiatrist will help you to understand what will happen at each stage. See caring for someone with a mental illness and questions to ask your doctor

Making an appointment with a child and adolescent psychiatrist

Referral from your GP (family doctor)

Your GP can write a referral to a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Use the RANZCP Find a Psychiatrist directory to find someone suitable near you.

Self-referral

Some public mental health services such as Headspace accept self-referrals. Please check with the individual service.

School-based health services

Sometimes, school-based health services may provide referrals to a psychiatrist.

Preparing your child to see a psychiatrist

Seeing a psychiatrist is a positive step towards helping your child feel better.

Explaining what is going to happen at an appointment will make your child feel more comfortable and able to express themselves openly.

Some ideas for what to talk about:

  • your child will have a chance to speak about their feelings and concerns, and ask questions
  • they won’t be ‘in trouble’ for anything they talk about
  • they will have a say in any treatment that is suggested
  • you may be involved in some or all of the treatment (so it it’s not all about them).

What happens at an appointment?

The first appointment is called an ‘assessment’. 

The psychiatrist will ask questions to get to know your child and why they might need help.

At first, your psychiatrist is likely to see you and your child together. After this, you might have separate appointments so that each person can express their views without worrying about each other’s reaction.

The psychiatrist may also ask you to bring in other information to assist them to make a diagnosis, such as school reports, blood test results or other medical scans.

At the end of the assessment, everyone is brought together to agree on a treatment plan.

More about first appointments

Parents and caregivers can be patients too

As a parent, caregiver or family member, you may need to have a separate consultation with the psychiatrist as part of your child’s treatment (and to support your own wellbeing).

To receive a Medicare rebate for this, you will need to be enrolled as a patient with the psychiatrist and provide your Medicare details.

More about the cost to see a psychiatrist

Confidentiality

With your consent, health information about your child may be shared with other health professionals to assist with treatment.

Children and young people are encouraged to be open with their parents. However, they are not obliged to share information with their family if they don’t want to.  

For children, having a private space to discuss their concerns can be very helpful.

If a child or young person is at immediate risk to themselves or others, psychiatrists are legally required to disclose certain information to parents and other services.  You will usually be told about this beforehand.

Remember

  • Child and adolescent psychiatrists are doctors who are experts in the mental health of children and young people.
  • Psychiatric help is very effective for children and adolescents who are experiencing mental health issues.
  • You usually need a referral from your GP (family doctor) to see a psychiatrist.
Page last reviewed July 2020 | C1017V1

This is a general guide only, and does not replace individual medical advice. Please speak to your doctor for advice about your situation. The RANZCP is not liable for any consequences arising from relying on this information. Subject matter experts, people with lived experience of mental illness and carers all contributed to this fact sheet.