Who’s who in CAMHS: for young people, parents, teachers and carers

This webpage describes what Child and Adult Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are and how people who work in CAMHS may be able to help you, if you, or someone you know, has a mental health problem.

These services come in all shapes and sizes, and tend to be made up of lots of different mental health professionals all working together to help young people and their families where there are mental health problems.

Disclaimer

This is information, not advice. Please read our disclaimer.

CAMHS professionals tend to work in one or more of the following places: 

  • Community CAMHS clinics (sometimes called Tier 3) 
  • Out-patient clinics or alongside paediatricians in general hospitals
  • Specialised in-patient, day patient or outpatient units (Tier 4)
  • In schools and some GP practices(Tier 2)
  • Alongside social services or youth offending services (YOS)
  • In children’s centres

In addition to offering appointments in the above places, some CAMHS professionals can offer to see you at home if it is difficult for you to meet elsewhere.

The different child mental health professionals in team usually include:

  • child and adolescent psychiatrists – they are medically qualified doctors who specialise in working with young people with mental health problems and their families.
  • clinical psychologists – they can assess and help with children’s psychological functioning, emotional wellbeing and development.
  • child psychotherapists - they are trained therapists who work with children helping to deal with their emotional and mental health problems
  • family therapists - they are trained therapists who work with children and their families together, to help them understand and manage the difficulties that are happening in their lives.
  • social workers - they are trained to help children and families needing extra support or help to keep them safe.
  • mental health practitioners - they are usually trained in mental health and help in the assessment (understanding) and management of emotional, behavioural and mental health problems.

Some teams can have other professionals like paediatricians, educational psychologists, art therapists, and speech and language therapists.

All CAMHS professionals are trained and experienced in working with young people with mental health problems. They may also have some specialist skills, which they may use for specific conditions or treatments.

CAMHS professionals deal with a wide range of mental health problems, including all those addressed in this series of leaflets and many more.

Many children and young people are troubled by emotional, behavioural and psychiatric problems, and these cause worry and distress both to themselves and to those who care for them.

A large part of a child psychiatrist's work is:

  • to identify the problem
  • to understand the causes
  • to advise about what may help.

Child psychiatrists are the only CAMHS professionals who can prescribe medication if it is needed. Sometimes specially trained CAMHS nurses may prescribe for some illnesses (e.g. like ADHD).

Other CAMHS professionals, for example, child psychotherapists, psychologists and family therapists are particularly skilled in providing talking therapies of different sorts.

Most of the work that they do with children, young people and their families is done through out-patient appointments, while the young person continues to live at home.

CAMHS professionals are sometimes asked to provide expert opinion to the courts about child welfare issues.

Your general practitioner, health visitor, paediatrician, school doctor or nurse, educational psychologist, SENCO in school, or social worker will be able to discuss any concerns and arrange for an appointment in a CAMHS service if necessary.

"I suppose I wasn’t really me for quite a while before people noticed. In the end it was school; Mum and Dad were always far too busy to see what was really happening.

I was being really short with everyone, teachers, even my friends; I fell out with quite a few people. I was picking fights, but I didn’t know why. It was almost like it gave me an excuse to be able to shout and scream at someone.

My English teacher asked me to pop into see Jan, our school nurse. After seeing Jan a few times, she said she was worried about me and wanted me to see someone. She mentioned Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

I didn’t know what that meant; when she explained, I got quite cross. I told her I wasn’t mad, I didn’t need a shrink.

I went though, just to see if they would be any use. I met a doctor, a psychiatrist, first. But it wasn’t like seeing any doctors I’d met before. We sat in chairs and had a really long talk. That was all.

Then I went again and the same thing happened. Over a few weeks I managed to tell the doctor about what was going on at home; Mum and Dad, the arguing. She wondered about asking the whole family to come to a meeting.

They came. They all came. The doctor was there, but she asked someone she works with, a family therapist, to join us too.

They got Frankie, my little sister, to talk which was amazing because she said she wouldn’t say a thing. They got everyone to say something, somehow - without them really noticing.

Mum was in tears when Frankie said she didn’t like seeing her so sad all the time. I was so relieved. They would really see now that it wasn’t just me. It was all of us.

YoungMinds - Provides information and advice on child mental health issues. Parents' Information Service tel: 0808 802 5544.

References

Department of Health (2004) Standard 9: The mental health and psychological well-being of children and young people. London: Department of Health.

Credits

Revised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Child and Family Public Engagement Editorial Board (CAFPEB).

With grateful thanks to Dr Viji Janarthanan, Dr Virginia Davies, Dr Vasu Balaguru, and Thomas Kennedy.

This resource reflects the best possible evidence at the time of writing.

About this information

This information reflects the best available evidence at the time of writing. Our mental health information for young people was written in 2017 and will be reviewed in 2020.

©  March  2017 Royal College of Psychiatrists