Information for Parents
Assessment and Understanding of a Child's or Young Person's Mental Health Difficulties
Our Children, Young People and Family Services provide a full clinical assessment of mental health carried out by Clinical Psychologists. A standard mental health assessment takes 90 minutes, after which a full psychological understanding of the child or young person is written up so that parents (and anyone else they choose to share it with) can understand what is going on from a psychological perspective.
An example of this is that when a child has a panic attack, they often think they are going to pass out or be sick. A psychological formulation helps to show that is a misinterpretation of what their body feels like, and the lightheaded feeling or the nausea are actually just acute symptoms of anxiety, and their fears are very unlikely to become reality.
Psychological formulations can be very simple (as above) or very complex and involve family dynamics and relationships.
If you require an assessment (for a diagnosis or for psychological health and/or behaviour) or support for a young person with autism, ADHD, or an intellectual disability, please see our Neurodevelopmental Lifespan Services, where these services are available.
We offer this under a specialist service because, although neurodevelopmental conditions can impact on a young person’s psychological health (and that impact may be distressing), they arise through an ‘organic’ difference in the way the brain develops and functions, and therefore they require a service with expertise in that area. A child with autism may become very anxious – just as a child without autism might – but the psychological support of the autistic child should consider the complexities that autism presents. Standard psychological support for issues such as anxiety may require significant adaptations for it to be effective for someone with autism.
The types of therapy we use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Narrative Therapy, Attachment Based Therapy, and Systemic Therapy. If a young person or their family is keen on receiving a specific type of therapy, the Clinical Psychologist they work with will be happy to discuss it and suggest alternatives so that they can make a fully informed choice about what is best for them.
We often work one-to-one with young people on issues such as panic attacks, low mood, stress, anger, self-harm, eating problems, relationship problems, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), generalised anxiety (excessive worry), anxiety relating to exams and school, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and adjustment disorder (big changes to circumstances).
Our Children, Young People and Family Services also offer family therapy, in which a Clinical Psychologist works with all members of the family at the same time. This type of work moves away from the idea of a problem being in a single person and instead looks at the family as a whole and how issues are raised and influenced by each member.
An example of this could be where a child develops behavioural problems during a time that their parents are having relationship difficulties. The behavioural problems serve as a focus for the parents, deflecting their attention from their own relationship issues. However, the tension in the house may contribute to the behavioural problems themselves, and a vicious cycle ensues.
Bespoke Treatment Options
Our Children, Young People and Family Services offer a bespoke service for families. After an assessment, the Clinical Psychologist will discuss treatment options. This can include having a member of the clinical team visit the family at home and carry out work with them there.
This can be a very effective means of tackling behavioural difficulties, as parents can work with the Psychologist in ‘live’ situations. We have been very successful in supporting parents with children who refuse to attend school, have debilitating OCD, exhibit behavioural issues because of autism or have many other psychological and neurodevelopmental difficulties.
What to expect
One-to-One Therapy with an Individual Child
Starting work with a psychologist can be really daunting for a child or young person. We try our utmost to make it as relaxed as we can. We pride ourselves on being able to make good connections with children and young people, and we don’t patronise them or make them feel uncomfortable.
When working one-to-one with a child, we believe the first (and probably the most important) goal is to establish a friendly, warm, and safe working relationship. This means that, before any work on the presenting problems begins, we want to ensure that the young person feels comfortable with the Psychologist and how the work will unfold. Once this is established, we consider the type of work to do. This is often based on the problem that the child wants to work on and the child’s personality. Some young people prefer a more creative approach that involves drawing, writing and creating characters, whereas others prefer a more technical focus that involves developing specific techniques and skills to overcome difficulties. When working with a Psychologist, one or a combination of these approaches is possible and will be discussed with the young person and their family (where appropriate).
Our clinicians have many years of experience of working with young people and can offer a wide range of ways to help. An example follows of a typical piece of work with a young person who was struggling with anxiety.
Family therapy involves all members of the immediate family and sometimes grandparents too! It takes the perspective that no single person is to blame for difficulties and that, although there might be an identified ‘patient’, they are seen as a symptom of the problem rather than the problem itself.
Work with Parents
It might not always be possible to work with a young person directly, for reasons such as they are too young, they do not wish to work with a psychologist or there are behavioural issues that the child does not have insight into. Through working with the parents, we are able to work with the young person indirectly. This can mean supporting parents to set up and monitor an effective behavioural management plan to tackle challenging behaviour or helping parents to develop new techniques in responding to their child’s emotional needs.
Work With Schools
After a shared understanding of a child has been developed, it is possible to share it with other people or agencies. This could be a GP or a teacher at school. The idea is that we all share the same understanding to ensure that all respond to the child in a consistent way. This is particularly useful if the child needs to be allowed to exclude themselves without too much fuss if they are trying to manage their anger or anxiety. With neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism and ADHD, the picture can be even more complicated, so being able to share an expert understanding with the school can really help the child to feel more comfortable in their environment.
The first course of action is to book an assessment. The assessment will be carried out by an experienced Clinical Psychologist who will spend 90 minutes finding out about the problem and taking a history of the person suffering from it. The child or young person will usually be accompanied by their parent(s) to gather details from early life. This is important to do to rule out any neurodevelopmental or health/physical causes of the problems. If the young person would prefer to be seen individually then this is also possible, and the assessor will always ask what is preferred.
Confidentiality is a very important part of the work, and young people can be assured that the information they share will not be automatically passed on to their parents. We work from the perspective that the more we can share, the better, but we try and do this in collaboration with the young person rather than without their knowledge. This can add to the trust given to the therapeutic relationship and often can enhance the rapport between the Psychologist and young person. Of course, parents are entitled to all information written about their under-16-year-old and this will be given in accordance with the law if required. If a young person is suspected of being at risk to themselves then information will be shared by standard procedure with all relevant parties as a duty of care.