What is a Child Psychologist?

psychologyA Psychologist is a professional who specializes in understanding why people do what they do. They examine the relationships between brain function, environment, and behavior.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “Psychologists study both normal and abnormal functioning and treat patients with mental and emotional problems. They also study and encourage behaviors that build wellness and emotional resilience.” A Child Psychologist focuses specifically on children and teenagers.

Are there different kinds of psychologists?

Yes. There are many subspecialties within the field of psychology. Here are a few kinds of psychologists that might be particularly helpful to a child and family:

• Clinical psychologists – they diagnose and treat a range of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.  They offer psychotherapy (talk therapy) to work through problems and issues.
• Developmental psychologists – they specialize in the many changes that occur with aging, especially developmental issues in childhood and adolescence.
• Neuropsychologist – they specialize in the relationship between the brain and behavior. They may use imaging techniques to help with their work (such as PET, SPECT and fMRI scans). They diagnose and treat a wide range of disorders.
• Rehabilitation psychologists – they help individuals with developmental disabilities, CP, epilepsy, autism, intellectual disabilities and those negatively affected by a trauma or accident, to adapt and improve their lives.
• School psychologists – they work in pre-schools, elementary, middle and high schools. They provide testing for children with learning or behavioral issues, counsel students and work with families and school staff to help children learn and socialize effectively.

To learn about the other kinds of psychologists, see the APA’s descriptions.

What kind of problems do psychologists treat?

Psychologists may specialize in different areas and treat issues from mild to severe.  Here are some examples of their areas of expertise:

• Developmental delays and disabilities
• Behavior problems
• Conducting psychological and educational testing
• Diagnosing and treating conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, ADD and ADHD (attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity), autism, PDD (pervasive developmental delay), OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), learning disabilities, phobias
• Parenting challenges and family issues
• Stress, trauma and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)
• Sleep disorders
• Self abuse
• Domestic violence
and many other issues or mental illnesses.

What kind of training do psychologists have?

Psychologists earn a doctorate degree – either a PhD or a PsyD (which is why they are called “Doctor”). This means that after 4 years of college, they go on for graduate study for 5 to 7 years. Then, states require a one or two year internship to obtain a license to practice psychology.

Is a psychologist different from a therapist?

A person can practice psychotherapy without a doctorate degree  (PhD or PsyD). For example, a clinical social worker (CSW) is an individual who completes a master’s degree and at least 2 years of additional training to become a licensed psychotherapist.

How is a psychologist different from a psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD) who has then gone on for several years of additional training to specialize in the field of psychiatry. As a medical doctor, a psychiatrist can write prescriptions for drugs. A psychologist is not a medical doctor, so he is not able to write prescriptions (although some states are beginning to allow psychologists to write prescriptions after additional training in pharmacology).

Both a psychiatrist and a psychologist offer psychotherapy, although there are some psychiatrists who primarily limit their practices to medication management. Many psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists work together to provide a comprehensive treatment plan for a child.

Where can you find a psychologist?

To find a psychologist in your area, ask your child’s health care provider for a referral. Or, go to the APA’s Psychologist Locator where you can search by location as well as area of specialization and ages served (such as a child psychologist).

Bottom line

A psychologist can be a lifeline to your child in diagnosing and treating different conditions or disorders, and an enormous help to you and your family in managing the associated challenges.

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” on the menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

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2 Responses to “What is a Child Psychologist?”

  1. Anna Kaminsky Says:

    This is a terrific overview of what a child psychologist does and how this type of professional can be helpful for parents struggling to help their children with mental health issues. Some parents might fear taking a child to a psychologist or psychiatrist, because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues, but taking care of the mind is just as important as the body. If your child was physically ill, you wouldn’t put off a visit to the doctor. Mental health issues should be treated with the same level of respect.

  2. Dr Lax Says:

    Child Psychologists are so essential these day and most parent don’t even know it. As a school psychologist myself I see many young people who could have used help earlier on in their lives.

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