Q & A with Elizabeth M. Homan, MD, MPH, Child Psychiatrist, Memorial Medical Center Behavioral Health Services

What does a child psychiatrist do?
In medicine, physicians who study mental health are psychiatrists. In our training, we attend four years of medical school and then three years for general psychiatry training. To specialize in child and adolescent psychiatry, there’s an additional two years of fellowship training. Children and their families see me for health issues such as developmental delays, autism concerns and behavioral challenges at home or school that are impacting the function of the child, which can sometimes result in diagnoses like depression, anxiety and even psychosis. There’s a wide range of reasons parents and children will see a child psychiatrist. Some conditions we’re able to target with medications, but for others it’s not appropriate. We talk about all of the options, which may include therapy options, as well.

In that first visit, what should a family expect?
Typically we send a packet of information prior to the appointment. This will give families a sense of the type of questions we’ll be discussing. As a physician, I’m going to look at the child’s past medical history, developmental history, things that occurred during the pregnancy and as they have grown, family medical history to get a sense of what things the child might be at risk for. I’ll also ask questions about their functioning at home and at school. Sometimes I’ll ask to get some information from the teacher in addition to the parents because students spend a lot of time at school. I will generally talk with the parents and child together and then the child separately.

Are there questions parents should be asking? Questions you wished every parent would ask?
Ask anything: there is nothing inappropriate to ask. What are you anxious about? If you have any questions, be sure to ask. Write down questions ahead of time, if that is helpful.

What do you think the largest misconception is?
That we’ll force medication on their kids. Sometimes we hear, “I always said I was never going to medicate my child but things have gotten so bad the school is making me be here.” I spend a lot of time recognizing that fear and anxiety and talking about all of the evidence-based treatment options. We won’t start anything that the family isn’t comfortable doing. Sometimes that includes medication, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I have families that are upset because they wanted  to start a medicine, and I instead recommend a couple months of therapy because that’s what is evidence based for that particular issue. I think that is a question a lot of parents have on their minds when they come in; often because they don’t come in until the situation has gotten so bad they feel they have no choice. It’s understandable when people try and figure it out or solve it themselves, but it can also make conditions harder to treat—since it’s simply easier, as with most things, to treat issues the earlier we start.

Our focus is the child. Even though we’ll get information from the family and schools, the main focus is your child.

Any advice you’d give kids or patients to live an overall healthier life?
I’ve always been drawn to working with kids and am so motivated by the resilience they show. It is thrilling for me to work with kids and families to help them recover and move forward in life. There is one thing that e very family can do, that can make a huge difference, doesn’t cost any money but can help a family bond and help with your child’s development: take five minutes a day to spend 1:1 time with your child and have that time be entirely focused on positivity. Remind your child what you love about them and how special they are. Setting aside five minutes to focus on that can really help with a child’s self-esteem and attachment in the family.

To learn more about Behavioral Health Services of MMC and whether Dr. Homan can help your family, please call 715-685-5400 or learn more about Behavioral Health Services of MMC here.