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It is essential to find an individual with the adequate education and training to best help your child. Just as a pediatrician specializes in the medical treatment of children, mental health professionals specialize in children's psychological problems. While pediatricians have fairly consistent training programs, mental health professionals do not. Here is some background information to help you choose the right person.

Master's degree professionals
These individuals have training programs that differ greatly. Some have a Master's degree in Psychology, Marriage and Family Counseling or Social Work. Generally, their programs require two years beyond their college education with varying types of coursework. Most will have clinical training during this time (under supervision) to teach the techniques they learn in class.

Psychologists (Ph.D. or Psy.D.)
Psychologists generally receive four to seven years of training, including a doctoral dissertation or special project. There are two different types of doctoral training in Psychology; scientific and practitioner. The scientific model requires intensive experience in research in addition to coursework. Specialization can focus into all types of behavior. These individuals do not provide direct services to people unless they received particular coursework needed for proper clinical training.

Clinical psychologists are trained either with an emphasis on research or in clinical practice. Most universities rely on the scientific training model with more extensive research, combined with coursework. The practitioner model utilizes a combined classroom and training program to develop Psychologists to evaluate and treat emotional and psychological problems. Psychologists receive both pre-doctoral and post-doctoral clinical internships. Clinical Psychologists with either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. are trained to provide direct evaluation and treatment. Specialized education and training in the use of psychological testing provide extra expertise is diagnostic assessment. Psychologists provide both evaluation and treatment.

Behavioral and Developmental Pediatricians
Medical doctors who have special interest in behavioral and neurodevelopmental issues of childhood receive a residency training program for this specialty. Residency programs provide a training experience that enables residents to recognize normal and abnormal behavior, understand development from infancy through young adulthood, understand the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence development, and differentiate between behaviors that can be treated by a generalist and those that need referral.

These pediatricians have expertise in determining the presence of abnormal developmental issues through a physical evaluation of the child's functioning. They provide diagnoses, make recommendations about needed services, and can prescribe medication. While psychiatrists have a longer residency related to psychiatric disorders, these physicians specialize in the evaluation of the child's neurodevelopmental and behavior functioning.

Psychiatrists receive a four-year medical education beyond college. They then receive three or more years of residency in Psychiatry. They typically include inpatient psychiatric hospital experience. Psychiatrists are able to prescribe medication while most other mental health professionals are not. Psychiatrists generally believe that psychological difficulties should be treated with medication. As a group, they typically do less psychotherapy and more evaluation and medication treatment.

Specialized Training with Children
Physically, emotionally and psychologically, children are unique. Growth occurs in different ways and in different times. Working with them requires an understanding of their problems within the context of what behavior is typical for the age. Without this knowledge, their problems cannot be properly assessed.

To receive the best treatment, it's essential to choose a therapist with specialized training. Generally, state licensing does not require a professional to receive training with the evaluation and treatment of children. Any licensed mental health professional can offer services without training in this area. These professionals are strongly limited in what they can provide your child.

Special Needs
Psychologists and Psychiatrists provide specialized services that Social Workers, Marriage and Family Counselors and other counselors cannot. If medical problems exist either as a component of the psychological problems or separate from other symptoms, a Psychiatrist can best handle the evaluation. Psychiatrists provide a great knowledge of the medication best suited for reduction of symptoms.

Psychologists are the only group trained and able to use psychological testing for the assessment of a variety of problems. These skills are critical for a proper diagnosis of learning and psychological problems and provide information unavailable through other mental health professionals.

EAP's, PPO's and HMO's
If you have a "managed health care" program as a part of your insurance coverage, you may not be able to choose who's been recommended to you. These programs contract with certain mental health professionals and do not reimburse for services rendered by other therapists. Benefits may also be strictly limited.

Strategy for Referral
1. Check with your insurance company for professionals specializing with children who are covered by your plan.

2. Consult the local chapters of the county and state Psychological Association, Psychiatric Society, National Association of Social Workers and Marriage and Family Counselor Associations for individuals specializing in the areas of concern.

3. Consult your pediatrician, school personnel, and close friends as to their recommendations.

4. Contact several therapists to discuss qualifications and background.

5. Proceed with your best choice based on this information
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