When a child struggles, professional help can be critical to moving through the challenges. Here is a roadmap to help you and your young person navigate the journey.

1. Create a list of needs vs. wants

  • Common goals include dealing with stress, trauma, and/or grief, exploring a mental health condition you have or think you might have, and/or seeking help for an emotional issue in your life.
  • It’s okay if you aren’t sure what your goals are, but know you want to talk with someone. A solid therapist can help you figure out your goals and work toward them with therapy.
  • Some issues may not need a specialized therapist. On the other hand, it may be helpful to have a therapist with specialized training for specific health conditions like anxiety.

Note your therapist preferences (e.g. gender, race/ethnicity, faith, years of experience)

RESOURCE TIP: For more on selecting the right professional, please read this article from Psych Central.

2. Consider the Type of Mental Health Professional You May Need

  • Psychologists: Clinical and counseling psychologists have a doctoral degree in psychology and are trained to make diagnoses and provide individual, group, couples, and family therapy, but typically cannot prescribe medication.
  • Social Workers: Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) have a master’s degree in social work (MSW) and are trained to make diagnoses, provide individual, group, couples, and family counseling, and provide case management and advocacy.
  • Therapists: Marital and Family Therapists have a master’s degree and clinical experience in marital and family therapy. They are also trained to make diagnoses and provide individual and group counseling.
  • Faith Counselor: Faith leaders are ordained for religious duty and have training in clinical pastoral education and making diagnoses. They can provide individual and group counseling.
  • Psychiatrists: A psychiatrist is a physician (M.D. or D.O.) with special training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional illnesses. As medical doctors they are able to prescribe medication, but generally do not counsel patients.

RESOURCE TIP: Learn more about the types of mental health professionals in this article from Mental Health America.

3. Start Your Search

  • Professional Directories: Here is a list of links tailored for people of color that considers a number of factors for finding the right professional, including specializations and areas of expertise.
  • Insurance Directory: If you have health insurance, calling the number on the back of your health insurance card can help you understand your behavioral healthcare coverage options.
  • Employee Benefits: An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a free, confidential program that supports employees experiencing personal or work-related issues. It may provide free therapy sessions.
  • Friend Recommendation: Friends may be helpful in providing suggestions and/or can share their experience with a specific provider.

PLEASE NOTE: The Steve Fund does not endorse or verify the license, skills, or experience of any therapists listed in the directories.

4. Call or Email the Therapist, Asking Questions to Find a Good Fit

  • Initial consultations: Therapists may have a free initial phone or in-person consultation before setting up an appointment. These consultations are usually 15 minutes or less, covering your background, specific issues you’re struggling with, and your therapy goals.
  • Questions to consider asking:
    • “Have you worked with someone from my community or in similar situations?”
    • “How do you include issues of race and culture in your work?”
    • “Tell me more about your approach.”
    • “How do you recommend treating my issue?”
    • “Do you offer services on a sliding-scale?”
  • How can you tell if a therapist is trustworthy?
    • Does the therapist show compassion, humility, and respect?
    • Is the therapist a good listener?
    • Do they listen without interrupting?
    • Does it seem that the therapist understands you?
    • Are they comfortable answering questions or are they defensive, dismissive, judgmental, trivial, and/or critical?
    • Are they transparent about all details, including payment?
    • Do you feel that the therapist truly cares about you and your issues?
  • Test the Waters
    If you find a therapist is not the best fit, don’t settle. Whether this realization comes during the first meeting or after some time together, it is okay to change therapists. The key thing is to keep seeking support. Remember, you are the consumer.If you have been meeting with a therapist for some time and want to change, it may feel uncomfortable mentioning this. If you do, they may help you find someone who is better suited to your needs and refer you to that person. You can also call an administrative assistant to discontinue sessions.