Evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist is appropriate for any child or adolescent with emotional or behavioral problems. Most children and adolescents with serious emotional and behavioral problems need a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation.

Comprehensive psychiatric evaluations usually require several hours over one or more office visits for the child, parents and family. With the parents’ permission, other significant people (such as the family physician, school personnel or other relatives) may be contacted for additional information.

The comprehensive evaluation frequently includes the following:

  • Description of present problems and symptoms;
  • Information about health, illness and treatment (both physical and psychiatric);
  • Parent and family histories;
  • Information about the child’s development;
  • Information about school and friends;
  • Information about family relationships;
  • Psychiatric interview of the child or adolescent;
  • If needed, laboratory studies such as blood tests, x-rays, or special assessments (for example, psychological, educational, speech and language evaluation).

The child and adolescent psychiatrist then develops a formulation. The formulation describes the child’s problems and explains them in terms that the parents and child can understand. Biological, psychological and social parts of the problem are combined in the formulation with the developmental needs, history and strengths of the child or adolescent.

Time is made available to answer the parents’ and child’s questions.

Parents often come to such evaluations with many concerns, including:

  • Is my child normal? Am I normal? Am I to blame?
  • Am I silly to worry?
  • Can you help us? Can you help my child?
  • Does my child need treatment? Do I need treatment?
  • What is wrong? What is the diagnosis?
  • What are your recommendations? How can the family help?
  • What will treatment cost, and how long will it take?

Parents are often worried about how they will be viewed during the evaluation. The child and adolescent psychiatrist is there to support the family and to be a partner, not to judge or blame. They listen to concerns, and help the child or adolescent and his/her family define the short and long-term goals of the evaluation. Parents should always ask for explanations of words or terms they do not understand.

When a treatable problem is identified, recommendations are provided and a specific treatment plan is developed. Child and adolescent psychiatrists are specifically trained and skilled in conducting comprehensive psychiatric evaluations with children, adolescents and families.


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Copyright © 1997 by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

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