Mental health is an important part of your child’s overall health. Learn tips on how to prepare for your child’s first appointment with their mental health provider.

How Should I Prepare for My Child's First Appointment?

  • Make sure the provider takes your form of payment. If you’re using health insurance, make sure they take your insurance. If you’re paying out of pocket.
  • Learn the provider’s plans for caring for your child. Every provider’s care plan is different. Make sure the provider’s care plan works for you and your child. Some schedule weekly visits, while some schedule visits once a month. Some visits are short and some are longer. (without insurance), make sure you and the provider agree on the payment amount and payment schedule.
  • Make sure the provider’s schedule and location works well with you and your child’s location. Every provider’s schedule is different, so make sure they are available when it works for you and your child. Make sure getting to and from the provider’s office works for you and your child too.
  • If your child needs medication prescribed, make sure the provider can prescribe it. Not all providers can prescribe medications. If you’ve been referred to a provider who can’t prescribe, ask the provider if they know other providers who can.
  • Learn how to contact the provider in case of an emergency. Some providers prefer phone calls, while some prefer that you visit the emergency room. Make sure the provider’s way of contact works for you and your child.
  • Ask the provider how much contact you’ll have with them during treatment. If your child is under 18, ask the provider how much they can tell you about treatment. If your child is over 18, they are a legal adult. Most providers like to talk to teens’ parents, but it also means the provider can’t share much about treatment without your child’s permission.

How Do I Tell My Child About the First Appointment?

Telling your child about the first appointment depends on their developmental stage. How to tell a young child about the appointment is different from how to tell a teen.

  • For young children, a visit to the doctor usually means something painful will happen, like getting a vaccine or having blood drawn. Make it clear right away that this provider won’t be giving vaccines or drawing blood. Tell your child that this provider will help them with confused, angry or sad feelings. It’s not the same doctor they would see for a sore throat or other medical problem.
  • For teens, talk about why they should visit the provider. Teens think about what others think of them and they often ask questions about why they need to go to the appointment. Tell your teen that you’re worried and that you’d like them to visit the provider for you so you’ll feel less worried.

What Should I Expect at the First Appointment?

  • There might be some information that stays private between your child and the provider. This builds trust between your child and the provider for more successful treatment. Talk with your child’s provider about what information they can share with you.
  • If your child is in danger or if there’s an emergency, the provider will tell you right away. While some things are kept private between your child and the provider, this isn’t the case if your child is in danger or if there’s an emergency. The provider will tell you right away if he/she thinks your child is in danger or if there’s an emergency.
  • The set up of the meeting will depend on your child’s age. If your child is young, you might spend time with the provider before or after he/she meets with your child alone. If your child is a teen, the provider will meet with your child alone some or all of the appointment time.
  • Your child might not share much about their time with the provider. You can ask your child to share, but they might need time to process their appointments before sharing. Other children like to share information right away. Some might not share anything about their appointment. This depends on what your child is comfortable doing after the appointment.
  • If you’re worried or have questions, let the provider know. You know your child better than anyone else. The provider will answer questions and listen to your worries so your child gets the best care possible.

What’s the Difference Between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist?

Both psychologists and psychiatrists are trained to help people with mental health problems, like anxiety, depression and many others.

A psychologist is a therapist who helps people work through mental health problems through changing behaviors and talk therapy. They don’t prescribe medications.

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who helps treat, diagnose and prevent mental health problems. They might write prescriptions to help people with mental health problems. They also do counseling to help people work through mental health problems.

Who Can and Cannot Prescribe Medications?

Psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners can write prescriptions.

Psychologists, social workers and licensed mental health clinicians cannot write prescriptions.

Rev. 2/2016. MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions. Adapted from “Preparing for Your Child’s First Appointment with a Mental Health Clinician” by Steven Schlozman, MD.