Social Workers, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Oh My!

Oh my...what professional fits

Ok, so this is an opinion piece.  I know this therapy type may be different in every country, state or province you are located in.   When you are looking to get some additional help or therapy for your child it can be very overwhelming.  I am not an expert in this but I do have experience with all three treatments with all three children.  Obviously, there is the treatment program to choose from group or individual, and therapy type such as psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), adlerian, art therapy and many more which you can choose from.  Another deciding factor is if insurance or healthy system will pay for it.  I am simply going to share my experience and I hope helpful.  Lets start with definitions:

When you look up online the definitions this is what is stated:

  • Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors, they can prescribe medications, and they spend much of their time with patients on medication management as a course of treatment. 
  • Psychologists focus extensively on psychotherapy and treating emotional and mental suffering in patients with behavioral intervention. (We used psychologists for assessments of LDs, ADD, ODD)  They can provide a diagnosis.
  • Social Workers - Social work is a profession concerned with helping individuals, families, groups and communities to enhance their individual and collective well-being. It aims to help people develop their skills and their ability to use their own resources and those of the community to resolve problems. (definition from At the beginning,  I really had never heard of using social workers for treatment.  I knew they were in the schools helping students who were having issues but that was about it.

When I was searching for the right professional who could connect with my son I asked what is the difference between the above 3 professions.  I loved the response I got.  The psychiatrist unfortunately does not have time to give therapy but can prescribe medication as a necessary treatment.  The psychologist looks at the person from the inside out.  The social worker looks at the person from the outside in.  For small children, who do not have a lot of mental baggage it can be very effective to use a social worker because in many cases they are struggling with their outside environments and how to deal with it.  This was the case for my son.  

I have had multiple experiences with social workers who have really connected and practically helped my son with his emotional and social struggles.  They both understood A, myself and our dynamics and gave us concrete tools to use to help communicate and explain our emotions.

I am a big fan of how our trained social worker conducted our sessions.  It is called Adlerian therapy is a brief, psychoeducational approach that is both humanistic and goal oriented. It emphasizes the individual's strivings for success, connectedness with others, and contributions to society as being hallmarks of mental health. (google definition)  It is short term and now we just go for a top up but I know if we ever get into crisis mode A has someone else that gets him, that he can trust and just be himself.  This connection is priceless.


Being an OT I have to add to this Sperry ;) 

Occupational Therapists also work in the field of mental health but not just separately -- although they definitely can.  OTs review the overall needs of your child and are goal focused as well.  As an OT, we focus on what the concerns are and how to best support the child and family.  I have to say addressing the learning concerns can have a big impact on your child's ability to cope.  I have witnessed this over and over again. However, in some cases your child may require more support in the area of mental health and that's why there is no one answer or professional.

That's why it's important to find the professional that best fits to support your child.  Not every OT or Social Worker etc is the best fit for your child -- take your time and walk through the process of finding the person that can offer you and your child the support that is needed. 



Susan Schenk