A Common Misperception about Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation

A Common Misperception about Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation

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While ECMHC is growing in popularity across the country as an effective mental health strategy, there are still misconceptions about its purpose and the role of the mental health consultant. One of the most common misperceptions is that early childhood mental health consultation is just like “traditional” mental health interventions that focus on direct therapy for an individual child or group of children. While some mental health professionals that offer ECMHC may choose to augment it with direct therapy for children with the most intensive needs, there are important distinctions between these two types of mental health services.

Direct therapeutic intervention, such as one-on-one therapy sessions or therapeutic playgroups conducted by a licensed or certified mental health professional, is designed to provide targeted assistance to a specific child experiencing mental health issues. It is a critical tool for addressing the needs of children with significant mental health challenges, particularly when less intensive interventions are not producing the desired results.

By contrast, ECMHC is focused on enhancing the skills and abilities of a child’s caregivers and, in doing so, empowering them to address the mental health needs of the children in their care. Further, ECMHC uses a multi-level approach that not only seeks to meet the needs of children identified with mental health challenges, but also to support overall healthy social/emotional development and prevention of mental health issues in young children. As such, ECMHC is an important component of comprehensive mental health services and a valuable complement to direct therapeutic intervention, as it offers more widespread impact through its focus on caregiver capacity-building and its holistic promotion/prevention/intervention approach. When used most effectively, ECMHC is also an efficient strategy because it helps caregivers take the lead in addressing common social/emotional issues, freeing up the mental health consultant to take on tasks that require more specialized mental health knowledge and training.

Note: If a Head Start/Early Head Start program wants a mental health professional who will provide a combination of ECMHC and direct therapeutic services, it is important to develop a scope of work statement/contractual agreement, illustrated in this example Momorandum of Understanding, which clearly specifies the expectations for both types of mental health intervention.

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This product was developed [in part] under grant number 1H79SM082070-01 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The views, policies and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or HHS.