For a Child
The first line of defense when a child appears to be having problems is usually the family pediatrician. Since this physician has probably known the family for quite some time and is familiar with the family's history, parents may find it easier to talk over their concerns with him or her. The pediatrician will be able to determine whether there is any physical cause associated with the problem. If the problem is not severe or debilitating, the pediatrician also should be able to give useful advice on how to deal with the situation or help the child resolve it. Examples of problems for which parents might want to get a pediatric consult are bedwetting, general complaints of not feeling well without any apparent physical symptoms, refusal to go school, withdrawal from friends and family, and excessive complaints of stomachaches and headaches.
If the problem has gone on for a long time or appears to interfere with the child's ability to function or cope in general, a psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of children or adolescents -- depending on the child's age -- should be consulted. The child's pediatrician should be able to refer parents to an appropriate specialist. Parents can also obtain referrals from their local district branch of the American Psychiatric Association, community mental health centers, medical school, and the local medical society.
For an Adult
Adults who wish to obtain psychiatric help may want to start by conferring with his or her own physician. The physician will probably want to perform a thorough physical evaluation to check whether any physical problems may be the cause or a contributor to the mental or emotional problem. If the physician believes that psychiatric treatment is needed or could be helpful, he or she can recommend the names of psychiatrists appropriate to consult. Other sources of referrals are the local district branch of the American Psychiatric Association, community mental health centers, medical school, and the local medical society.
Information from the American Psychiatric Association's How to Choose a Psychiatrist pamphlet