What is a child psychologist?
A child psychologist is a mental health professional who specializes in treating children and children’s problems. In layman’s terms, a child psychologist does kids therapy. This may be a psychologist who has had additional training in how to treat children, it may be someone who specialized in children to begin with, or it may be someone who has simply build his/her practice around children. (continued…)
What does a child psychologist do?
You might wonder what kind of specific problems children (and adolescents) might have that would warrant a specialty in child psychology. On the other hand, it might be obvious to you why a child psychologist is needed. Here are some of the types of problems a child psychologist specializes in handling:
- learning disabilities
- social difficulties
- emotional difficulties such as depression, anxiety, etc.
- self-harm and/or suicidal ideation
- emotional issues related to divorce
- anger management
- identity formation
- attachment disorders
- being the victim of bullying
- bullying other children
- parent-child relationship problems
- aggressive behaviours
- eating disorders
- defiant and strong-willed children
- social withdrawal or isolation
- child does not listen or follow through with instructions
- mood swings
- trouble coping with loss
As you can see, a child psychologist deals with many of the same issues that a psychologist who does not specialize in children sees. However, a child psychologist often employs specific techniques that are different depending on the maturity level of the child. (continued…)
Often, a child psychologist will work with the school and/or family system as a whole in order to help the child to overcome their difficulties. Kids therapy often has to involve more than just the kid(s) to be effective.
What techniques does a child psychologist use?
The short answer to this question is “whatever techniques work best”. Certain techniques have been scientifically proven (literally) to work better than others. When those types of techniques are used, we call it “evidence based therapy”. Ideally, a child psychologist will assess the cognitive capacity of the child/adolescent and will provide them with evidence-based therapy that is at their level. Psychologists are not licensed to dispense medication, so if a child psychologist suspects that a medical issue is at play or that medicine might help, they will suggest that the child see either the family physician or a psychiatrist. (Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in the mind and they can prescribe medication vs. psychologists who cannot prescribe.)
For very young children who will not benefit from talk therapy, a child psychologist will employ one of many play therapy techniques. These can include the use of creative visualization, therapeutic storytelling, role play, puppets and masks, sand tray, art, music, dance, movement, and clay. These elements are used to help the child work through their problems and learn new behaviours. For children too young to speak or who are not very verbal, this is a great type of kids therapy. Some of these techniques are sometimes used in regular therapy too.
For older children, techniques used can be very similar to the techniques used with adults such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), interpersonal therapy, psychodynamic therapy, schema therapy, and other therapy modalities. In other words a child psychologist may employ talk therapy with older children or adolescents. Child psychologists are both trained and experienced in the stages of growth and particular problems that children have.
Where can I find a trained child psychologist?
A child psychologist may be referred to as a developmental psychologist or a pediatric psychologist or even an adolescent psychologist. How can I select the best therapist for my child? The answer is not a simple one. First, it depends where you live in terms of licensing and what options are available. Secondly, it depends on what you are able to afford and what your insurance (if you have any) will cover. You may be better off seeing a counselor or licensed social worker who specializes in children. (continued…)
This resource on how to select a child therapist may help you decide although it is oriented mainly towards people in the United States. If you are located elsewhere, try to find out what the licensing regulations are for your location and ensure that the therapist you are seeing is licensed for your area.
For example, where I live, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, a counsellor legally does not have to be licensed, but many are and have the CCC designation that one gets from the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. Psychology, however, is licensed here, and all local licensed psychologists are licensed with the College of Alberta Psychologists. Additionally, it is important to speak to the therapist to determine what experience they have working with children/adolescents. Do they know about kids therapy as well as adult therapy?
How do I become a child psychologist?
This depends on where you live. In most locations, it requires a PhD or a PsyD in Clinical Psychology with a specialization in or experience with children. If you are just starting out, the first step might be to get your bachelor’s degree in Psychology. If you simply want to work with children, but not necessarily become a child psychologist, there are other options such as a Child and Youth Services degree.
There are many choices when it comes to PhD and PsyD programs in Psychology. Some are better than others and some are more competitive than others. Here is the list of programs accredited by the American Psychological Association (note: no Canadian programs are accredited by the APA any longer). Programs accredited by the Canadian Psychological Association.
How much does a child psychologist cost?
This depends on the qualifications of the child psychologist as well as on your specific location. Also, if you have insurance, your insurance might cover some or all of the cost, depending on the qualifications of the person that you see. You might be able to find low cost or subsidized kids therapy in your area.
How much does a child psychologist earn?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (May, 2011), the median annual salary for clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $67,880 USD.
A child psychologist offers “kids therapy”. The child psychologist either has special training related to children or has extensive experience with children. Through specific evidence-based techniques, the child psychologist helps the child overcome their emotional distress.
Finding a qualified child psychologist in your area may involve locating the governing body of child psychologists in your State or Province and choosing from a list they can provide. The cost can vary tremendously. Some clinics may be free, based on income, and others might charge $300 per session. It is highly variable.
As a career, psychology in general has a lot of potential for the right sort of individual. Strong academic skills along with empathy, compassion, and a genuine concern for children are what make a good child psychologist.