What to Expect – At Your First Appointment:
During your first mental health appointment (often called an intake appointment) you will meet with a mental health professional or intake specialist. Depending on where you go and your child’s needs you it may also be a psychologist, a psychiatrist, social worker, counselor or an intake specialist who is sometimes another trained parent. Your meeting may take place in a private office, clinic, mental health center, community agency, or in your home.
Your first visit won’t be much different than a first visit to any doctor. The mental health professional will ask you a lot of questions, including questions about your child’s physical, emotional and mental health; performance in school, home and the community; in addition to questions about your child’s developmental history, relationships, your family routines etc… The interview should include a discussion of your child and family’s strengths and the supports that you and your family may already have in the community.
Some of the questions you will be asked may be very personal – regarding your child, yourself and the rest of the family. It may seem that the health professional is being too curious or intrusive, but they need to understand the way your child lives and what your family life is like in order to fully understand his/her behavior. These questions will help him or her understand the problem and the different things your family has tried to cope with it. This information will guide the health professional, along with your input as a parent, to make recommendations about the best way to help your child.
The information you share at this meeting is considered confidential. You may be asked to sign a consent form giving the health professional permission to share information with others, in order to meet legal, governmental or insurance requirements. You should discuss any concerns you may have about sharing your information during the intake interview. You will also be asked to complete other forms including a developmental history of your child.
Once the intake process is complete, you may or may not move into the planning stage where plans will be made about the types of services and supports and treatment that will best meet your child’s and family’s needs. Whether or not this happens will depend on a lot of factors including whether or not all of the assessments have been completed, etc… In Michigan, the mental health code requires that planning be “person-centered” (meaning the treatment you receive will be made up of activities that you help plan which you think will help you) and youth guided (meaning your child’s perspective is solicited, valued, and incorporated into their care) and family driven (meaning families have the primary decision-making role in the care and development of their plan and children). For children, the best practice planning approach should have you as a parent directing the process to help ensure that the plan meets the needs of your child and family. Because your family has the greatest impact on your child, it is extremely important that the whole family be supported so that your family can function to the best of its ability in supporting the child who is having difficulties.
It may take more than one introductory meeting before a plan of service and supports can be developed. Sometimes this is referred to as an individual plan of service, a person-centered plan or a family service plan. Throughout this planning and assessment process you may meet with a psychiatrist, who is also a medical doctor, a psychologist, who may test your child, and a clinical social worker, who provides a psychosocial assessment. The evaluation process and the results of the evaluations and the plan of services and supports should be discussed with you and your child in a way that you can understand.
Remember that throughout the process of accessing services and supports for your child that your input and participation is critical! You know your child better than anyone and you also know what will work best for your child family. It is important that your knowledge and experience be taken into account when creating your family’s plan of services and supports. If you get through the planning process and don’t feel that your input was considered, or that your preferences are not included in the plan, you can always ask to change the plan. If you continue to feel your preferences and expertise are not being considered after talking with your team you could also request a change of therapist or case manager.