Why a Parent's Guide to Mental Health



by Pamela Garfield-Jaeger, LCSW:  


One silver lining from the COVID pandemic was that parents became more aware of issues in public schools and there has been a large movement towards homeschooling and alternative education.  However, with this move, this leaves many parents with less supportive resources, especially around mental health. My goal is to arm parents with the information to ask the necessary questions and find the best therapy for their children. I will be discussing different types of therapies, different mental health professionals, how to do a basic suicide assessment, and red flags to look out for when working with a therapist you may not be sure about. In addition, I will also cover timely issues that many be impacting your family such as COVID policies, substance abuse, gender dysphoria, victim mentality and more.


I have over 20 years of experience working with children and teens, and I've supervised over 50 school-based therapists since 2011. I’ve also worked in residential programs, outpatient mental health clinics and have well-rounded experience working in the child and teen mental health field.  As a supervisor to young counselors, I always emphasized the importance of involving parents in treatment.  I did this for many reasons: The adults a child lives with will have a large impact on that child and their mental health.  Also, talking with parents not only informs the parents of what is happening with their own child and enhances the ways they can support them, but it also gives the therapist new insight into what is happening in the child's life. For example, a parent may explain a different point of view on a conflict or situation. The reality is sometimes children don't tell the whole truth, right?  Especially with younger children, it is important to talk to other adults in their life to understand the context of what comes up in therapy since many younger kids do not have the ability to articulate well. Parent-child communication is vital in therapy and simply getting to know the parent better informs the therapist of what the child may be experiencing. In addition, it informs the therapist of what concerns and specific behaviors the parent has for their child.   It is also important that the therapist works within the child's family values and culture and does not impose their own values onto the child. Most importantly, in the event of an emergency, the therapist and parents need a strong working relationship so they can work collaboratively to ensure the safety of the youth.


However, despite these obvious benefits, most of the therapists I supervised (with Master of Social Work MSW and Masters of Family Therapy MFT degrees) had to be prompted often to call parents.  Much of the time, it was simply because of the effort it requires to call parents. It’s difficult to reach them at odd times and there is extra work of documenting phone calls.  In addition, the reality is, it can be unpleasant for a therapist to call a parent and share the problems their child may be having, so it can be easier to avoid that call.  Also, some therapists may be avoiding scrutiny of their work. Most people prefer not to be questioned, especially if they are new to the field and feel insecure or conversely, are too set in their own practices. In addition, just like all humans, therapists have their biases, and they tend to align with or identify with their child client. As a supervisor, it was always my priority to help a less experienced therapist recognize their bias and be open to other perspectives.  If a therapist avoids tough conversations with parents, he/she may maintain their biases which can get in the way of insightful therapy.


In my experience, I have worked with many wonderful new therapists who were open to learning and wanted to do their best so they agreed with my direction to keep parents in the loop, even when though it was uncomfortable at times.  However, and unfortunately, there are therapists that either don’t make the effort or intentionally do not involve parents. Sometimes it is because they disagree with the family's values.   I'm seeing this happen more often in 2022 and that is why I believe this manual is so important. My goal is to arm parents with information so they can ask the right questions and know their child is receiving appropriate mental health care.  While it is best practice to not share all the details from therapy to parents in order to build trust with your child, YOU STILL HAVE A RIGHT TO BE INVOLVED. If your child is under 18, legally, you have a right to know what is happening in your child's therapy.  If your child's therapist does not involve you at all, I recommend that you find a new therapist for your child.  Not only is excluding you unethical, but it is also not effective treatment.


My mission here and in the upcoming material is to provide you with the language and information you need so that you can be the best advocate when seeking care from mental health professionals for your family.