Heart to Heart with Adele: Checkups for children’s mental health
My former husband is telling me our school age daughter is experiencing a mental health issue and that she wants to talk to a counsellor. I am unsure about how to handle this, as she has not expressed that desire to me. I do not want to over react but also want to keep the peace in my co-parenting arrangement with my daughter’s father. Ideas?
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Dear Between a Rock and a Hard Place,
Adults who are co-parenting, regularly have extra challenges doing what is best for their cherished children. It sounds like you have a fairly decent communicative relationship with your ‘Ex’, which is always preferable in such family arrangements.
I suggest that you discuss further with your child’s dad, out of earshot of your daughter, at a time when both of you have no other distractions, pending commitments or stressful situations needing attention at the time. Try to get a handle on the reason your ‘Ex’ wants to engage a counsellor, the situations that led up to that idea, his suggestions for finding and paying an excellent therapist, and who should initiate finding a resource and when.
You need not be concerned about using a counsellor for your child or yourself. People often make a very big deal about checking in for a tune up on their marriage or about a problem in their own lives or the lives of their kids, which is really quite unfounded. Competent therapists or counsellors are there to help you sort out problems and bounce around solutions. The client does the legwork and makes all the decisions. A counsellor is merely ‘the guide on the side’ who asks questions and focuses thinking, so the client can become a better problem solver going forward. Your child will likely come out of a few sessions with a therapist stronger, more capable of insightful thinking and more capable of solid, confident, independent, rational decision making.
Once you and your child’s dad are both on the same page regarding the decision to go ahead and explore your daughter’s concerns with a professional, everything else should fall into place fairly easily.
Free counsellors of great skill are available very fast on a walk in basis at most community centres or family service centres, like the Jewish Family Services of Ottawa. This one is a non profit, non sectarian source of counselling services. After three sessions a prorated cost will apply. Qualified personnel can be chosen from a long roster of seasoned professionals for a longer term intervention. These costs are regularly offset through insurance benefits, if you have them.
Paid private professionals who are doctors, psychologists, social workers and therapists with other kinds of training are abundant in Ottawa, as well. They usually can be engaged fairly quickly. Word of mouth can often lead you to a good one, as can your family doctor or school professionals, who can suggest someone experienced and well respected. You will have to pay the costs out of pocket, so this option may not be on the table for your family. Crossroads Children’s Mental Health Services is one of which I am aware and can recommend.
The Ontario Health Care System has some amazing people too, such as psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, who are covered or largely covered financially by OHIP, but the wait times can be extremely frustrating. I have heard the wait time to get help for such a referral to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, has been over one year for some time now, with no guarantee you will get someone to see you or your child more than a handful of times. Once in the door, however, the services there are excellent.
Both major Ottawa school boards employ professionals who may be available to see your child. Check this option out with the principal in your youngster’s school, as well. Services will likely be cost free. Expect a long wait though, as many children need help and resources are often pretty thin.
I suggest you start with a free one session option and see what that professional thinks about intervention possibilities which might be needed. One or two sessions might clear up the problem or point the way forward. The counsellor seen will have plenty of experience to make the call, I suspect.
Stay chill! Most of us need a bit of help along life’s journey. More of us should get it when it is one issue, quite small and manageable, and when the solutions are numerous or fairly simple. Many folk wait, and wait , and wait until their mole hill is a mountain, and Dr. Phil himself along with the help of Pope Francis would be hard pressed to know what to do.
Help yourself, your ‘Ex’ and your daughter have the conversation that makes a mental health concern, as discussed and acceptable, as a physical health concern such as the common cold. Remember, seeing a counsellor is not a big deal!
I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.