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What is a Qualified Health Care Professional?

Finding help is not easy. Parents must choose from and communicate with numerous professionals including counselors, clinical social workers, psychologists, family nurse practitioners, psychiatric nurse practitioners, neurologists, family physicians, psychiatrists and adolescent psychiatrists to find help for their child’s problems. Parents can become lost without information and guidance necessary to find help for their child.

Finding a qualified health care professional is ultimately the responsibility of parents. Professionals can recommend people that they believe are qualified but parents must make informed choices. A professional that you would think is qualified can be minimally qualified for one problem and highly qualified for another. For example, some professionals are highly qualified to provide therapy to a depressed adolescent yet they can be unqualified to work with a youth who who is severally oppositional defiant and antisocial.

The following are some guidelines that parents should consider when choosing health care professionals.

Licensure. The fact that a person is licensed provides the first best assurance that the person is meeting educational, training and professional standards of conduct set forth by a state's licensing authority. Licensure brings accountability to the relationship between professionals and patient, or professionals and clients. There are no standards of care or code of conduct that unlicensed professionals must follow. Membership in a professional or trade organization means very little if the person is not licensed. Most trade organizations exist to promote the profession - not protect consumers from their members. Certifications are usually meaningless without licensure backing it up. A licensed professional who is certified demonstrates they have a specialized area of competence within the scope of their license. A licensed professional can lose their license if they market their services with a "bogus" certification. It is important to keep in mind that many people who cannot meet educational and training standards for licensure will obtain certifications. This is often a means to market their services and to give testimony to their abilities. While licensure is important, licensure alone is not enough for all cases.

Area of Practice. Obviously, a qualified professional should be someone who actually works with adolescents and the problems parents bring to their attention. The area in which a professional practices can be misleading and it may cause misunderstanding. Many professionals have overlapping areas of practice. For instance, a physician who works in adolescent medicine will encounter many of the problems that parents have with their children. But these same professionals can be limited in their ability to help because of time constraints or their lack of knowledge and experience with youth intervention resources. In addition, they may not be able to provide the level of support and guidance necessary. For these reasons and others, parents need to find a professional or series of professionals who work with the problem presented.  This means that parents may need someone to be in-charge of managing the "big picture" or the parents will need to assume responsibility to assure that  everything gets done. Consultants can be employed to focus on goals and not just one link in a series of issues or problems. This means that parents dealing with a complex problem will encounter frustration and disappointment if they seek help from professionals who can only address a small piece of a much bigger problem. With regard to the area of practice, the key is to find someone who has the time, is available and committed to creating a solution for problems they work with. Finally, it is important to find the right professional. Some problems may seem to require more than one professional. But in many cases the right professional may provide a better and more comprehensive solution.

Training. Professionals learn from experience but they also learn a great deal from training that is specific to their area of practice. Training provides professionals with new information as well as contact with others who represent actual standards of care and behavior. Licensed professionals are required to attend recognized and credible training in order to maintain their license. Unlicensed professional are not required to attend training or credible training. Whenever possible, parents should review a professionals training experience or ask about their training in the area in which they practice. Asking should not offend a true or confident professional.

Experience. Experience is what separates a mere professional from a highly qualified professional. Working with a lot of problems in the youth population gives a professional the ability to appreciate the complexity and potential issues as well as how well interventions work. This can be invaluable because working with youth is not easy. Intervention, counseling and treatment options are numerous. Knowing what is available, works and is cost effective requires experience. It can take years of work in the field of youth intervention in order to guide parents successfully.

Knowledge. Information, and especially current information, is critical in order to construct an effective intervention. Knowledge empowers parents to make informed decisions.  Knowledge allows professionals to be credible and to provide that information that parents needs. Professionals need to have knowledge pertaining to individual, group, family and program services. This includes boarding schools, emotional growth programs, therapeutic programs, residential treatment, behavior modification programs, psychiatric hospitalization, psychiatric services, counseling, psychotherapy, family therapy, group therapy, psychological testing, adventure therapy, wilderness therapy and outdoor behavioral health.

Dated: December 30, 2007

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