Mother and her teenager daughter talking with therapist.

The past two to three years have seen a significant increase in mental health concerns among children and teenagers, without a similar rise in providers who can diagnose and treat them. Many families wonder if their child would benefit from some form of counseling but don’t know where to start. Many others know that counseling is needed, but are subject to long waiting lists before a provider becomes available.

Hayden Mbroh, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist at Texas Children’s Hospital and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, works every day to provide support to families navigating various challenges. Specifically, Dr. Mbroh works with youth admitted for inpatient care at Texas Children’s.

How to know if your child would benefit from seeing a mental health professional

The wide variety of appropriate responses to difficulty in a child’s life along with the fact that youth do not always disclose the severity of symptoms they are experiencing can make it challenging for parents to know when to pursue psychological services for their child.

Dr. Mbroh recommends listening to children if they express a desire for additional support. She also recommends looking at the degree to which your child’s emotions and behavior impact their overall functioning, such as school performance, engaging with friends, and continuing hobbies. Evaluating the amount of distress that their emotions and behavior cause them is equally important.

A teenager who gets excellent grades but experiences extreme anxiety in social situations may still benefit from psychological interventions.  

What to do while on the waitlist

 If you decide to seek the services of a psychologist or other mental health provider, your child may be placed on a waitlist for therapy due to the high demand for mental health services. During this waiting period, there are still things that you can do to support your child.

“Validating the emotions of others is an important skill everyone can utilize. Validation is not synonymous with agreement or approval. Rather, it means acknowledging others’ emotions are legitimate for them, even if your own emotions differ from theirs” Dr. Mbroh said.

Find opportunities to praise your child. It is always nice for children to be reminded of the reasons, both big and small, that you appreciate them.

Take your child to the nearest emergency room for further evaluation if they are endorsing thoughts or engaging in behavior involving harm to themselves or others.

Pursue individual therapy for yourself when needed. Many parents prioritize their child’s well-being but often neglect their own mental health. However, investing in your own mental health further equips you to be an effective source of support for your children. It also highlights and normalizes for them the fact that everyone benefits from extra support sometimes.          

What treatment looks like

 “My first session consists of an initial evaluation during which I obtain background information about the youth related to their social life, family, school, mental health, behavior, personal strengths, etc. I also provide the opportunity for the youth and their parents to share their perspectives about the child’s presenting problem” said Dr. Mbroh.

Treatment plans are tailored to fit the needs and preferences of each child.

Most counseling sessions occur one-on-one with the child and psychologist because it facilitates the child’s ability to independently identify and communicate their thoughts and emotions. Psychologists typically provide regular treatment updates to the parents and obtain their feedback on the child’s progress. Depending on the nature and severity of a child’s symptoms, they may also benefit from meeting with a psychiatrist for medication-based interventions. Parents and their children are always welcome to have informational sessions with a psychiatrist to learn more about the benefits of medication as well as any potential side effects. This information will allow the family to decide whether medication is something they would like to incorporate into the child’s treatment.              

 “A key component of my job is supporting youth by fostering self-efficacy and finding hope amidst their current situations. Both self-efficacy and hope are incredibly powerful because even the smallest amounts can be life-changing” said Dr. Mbroh.

To make an appointment with a psychologist at Texas Children’s Hospital Department of Pediatric Psychology, call (832)822-1900.