A significant problem facing parents and professionals is the widespread confusion over terms, definitions and descriptions used by programs and mental health care service providers. There is frequently a difference between what these terms actually mean, how they are used and what people assume they mean. These words can be very confusing because there are no commonly accepted or enforceable definitions used by treatment professionals and programs.
The following is a list of words that can potentially confuse and mislead parents, caregivers and professionals who are trying to locate and evaluate options that might help a child. The list can be broken down into categories referred to as treatment terms, programs terms and credential terms.
Treatment terms can be very confusing for a number of reasons. For one thing, they can imply a level of service, quality, experience or credentials. For example, the fact that a person or program refers to staff as therapists is not an assurance of competence. A truly qualified therapist is highly educated, trained, experienced and licensed to provide behavioral and mental health services. The following is a list of terms that can be confusing or misleading.
Program terms can be equally difficult to understand. Even when used correctly these terms provide only general descriptions. Many parents will discover that program terms can be confusing and overwhelming. This is because programs have varying structures, approaches and staffing. On the surface a program can sound like it has all the services necessary, as well as qualified staff, when in fact this is not the case. It is regrettable but a fact that a few programs deliberately misuse program terms in their marketing to attract parents and increase enrollment. For example, a program can market their services as if they are a wilderness program when in fact they are a boarding school that goes camping occasionally. It is important for parents and professional to understand that program terms do not always mean the same thing. The following is a list of terms that can be confusing.
The terms that are used to describe credentials can vary a great deal. The only term that means anything for sure is the term “licensure.” By far, licensure is more difficult to obtain than say the requirements associated with being certified and registered. Licensure provides the highest overall level of quality assurance and professionalism. The reason is simple. Licensed professionals have obligations under state laws to perform ethically and professionally in accordance with defined standards of practice. Certified and registered professionals are not required as a matter of law to follow any standards. Licensed professionals can be held to a higher standard of care. This is one reason you find very few licensed professionals involved with poorly run programs.
Education is also an important credential. However, having an advanced degree is not enough. Parents need to inquire further with regard to the credentials and titles used by the people they are talking with. This includes the degrees and titles that are presented. Here is a simple case in point. It is not uncommon for an employee in a program to refer to himself as the clinical director or the medical director. A clinical director may refer to their self as a doctor for example, Dr. Smith. It is possible for Dr. Smith to have a Masters degree in psychology and a PhD in English but no licensure or training in therapeutics or medicine. Referring to “Dr. Smith, Clinical Director” is deceptive. The following is a list of credentials that can be confusing or misleading.
Trying to find a professional or a program for your child will not be easy. Parents and caregivers can end up misled or confused if they rely entirely on these terms without understanding what they mean. There are several potential solutions.
Dated: December 30, 2007
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