Where to Go for Parenting Help

Written by Laura Millar, editor, writer and daughter of Thomas Millar.

I am often asked, "How can I find a physician like your father to help me with my parenting?" My answer usually is "I wish my father were here to give you a good answer!" Sadly, my father is no longer here, and I am not a physician, let alone a psychiatrist. I am sure the College of Physicians and Surgeons would not let me dispense advice, even if I felt I could. (And I most assuredly don't.) But people who have ready my father's book - The Omnipotent Child and Rearing the Preschool Child - often find the guidance helpful but still need some more active help with their parenting concerns.

My best suggestion is that you start your search by looking at the mental health services offered by agencies in your area, such as through the regional branches of the Canadian Mental Health Association or Mental Health America in the United States. These organizations offer a wide range of programs and services, and you can find links on their websites to regional or local offices, support groups, and other resources.

I always encourage people not to be put off by the term "mental health." The phrase may still come with some unfortunate negative stigma, though much less than in decades past. Of course, I was raised by a psychiatrist - I know from watching my father work that "mental health" is not only about serious issues of mental illness or addiction but can also relate to general coping, well being, and maturity.

Still, you may have to do a bit of digging when looking at mental health-related resources and websites; a lot of material focuses on issues such as drug addiction, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder. But there is also valuable information about issues such as parenting, child development, bullying, and relationships with schoolmates, teachers, and others.

Useful information can also be found through the national, provincial, or state colleges of physicians and surgeons: the licensing bodies responsible for regulating the medical profession. All practising physicians must hold a current licence from the medical regulatory authority in the province or state in which they practice; provincial, state, and territorial websites provide directory information about physicians, including psychiatrists, and can be a starting point for finding a doctor to help with your family. As well, the websites for licensing bodies often include links to other useful information for patients and the public.

In Canada, for instance, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada focuses primarily on educational issues for doctors, but the College's website provides useful links to each of the provincial and territorial colleges. Those websites include information about how to find a physician along with other information about medical and health resources in your area. The website for the Canadian Paediatric Society includes information about paediatricians and general guidance for parents and families.

In the United States, the website for the American College of Physicians directs users to additional information about physicians in different parts of the country; more useful may be the website for the American College of Pediatricians, which provides information specifically related to children and youth. The section for parents contains a great deal of valuable advice.

You may also want to contact a psychologist for help. Unlike a psychiatrist, a psychologist is not a licensed physician. Psychiatrists look at medical issues as well as emotional or mental health issues when assessing and treating patients; as well, psychiatrists are licensed to prescribe medications whereas psychologists are not. But the fundamental aim of both professions - the alleviation of mental stress - is the same, and psychologists can offer valuable parenting guidance.

As with medicine, the practice of psychology is licensed. You will want to ensure that any psychologist you contact has received the appropriate education and has the necessary credentials to practice. The American Psychological Association and the Canadian Psychological Association both provide a wealth of information on their websites and provide directories of members, along with links to other state and provincial resources.

The next challenge is to find a physician or counsellor whose approach to treatment and support meets your needs. My father's psychiatric "perspective" has sometimes been labeled as "behavioural" or "cognitive/behavioural". Put in its simplest form, behavioural psychology focused on changing behaviours in the belief that the change would result in a new and different way of thinking and feeling; cognitive psychology moved beyond behaviourism to look at changes in the brain brought about by different or changing actions and behaviours.

Now, my father would be roaring at me from beyond the grave for even trying to label his approach or to dipping into the realm of psychology and psychiatry, so I will stop. But when looking for someone to help your family, you may want to explain that your starting point is the work my father did in child psychiatry, and you may want to bring a copy of his book(s) with you, if you have them. That way, you have a better chance of moving in the direction you wish when looking for a counsellor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

I can only hope that this little bit of guidance, purely from the perspective of a layperson and the daughter of a psychiatrist, will help. At least, it may be a starting point. I wish you the best of luck with your family.

Laura Millar