A child psychologist is a mental health professional who uses psychological evaluations and various forms of therapy to help children and adolescents learn to better cope with life and relationship issues and mental health conditions. They can help treat mental, emotional, social and behavioral health conditions.
A child psychologist has professional training and clinical skills to evaluate and treat the mental, emotional, social and behavioral health of infants, toddlers, children and adolescents.
Child psychologists have a thorough understanding of the basic psychological needs of children and adolescents and how their family and other social contexts influence their:
Child psychologists also have expert knowledge of mental and behavioral conditions that affect children.
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Child psychologists use a wide range of procedures and skills when working with children and adolescents, including:
Child psychologists are often included in the comprehensive care of children with medical problems. For example, they may help children with sleep difficulties or chronic pain or those coping with a chronic illness.
The emotional, mental and behavioral conditions that affect children are often treated differently from adults due to differences in age, cognitive levels and maturity. Because of this, child psychologists can use several different types of therapy techniques based on your child’s age and unique situation. Depending on the age and needs of your child, child psychologists may work solely with you (or guardians) to help with parenting skills or how to best address your child’s behaviors.
These therapies include:
A child therapist has a master’s degree in a mental health-related field such as psychology, counseling psychology or marriage and family therapy. A child therapist is qualified to evaluate children’s mental and behavioral health and use therapeutic techniques, such as talk therapy. Therapists usually have an approach that’s more focused on problem-solving.
A child psychologist has a doctoral degree (PhD) and often has extensive training in psychological research or clinical practice. Child psychologists can conduct many tests that therapists can’t, to help diagnose mental health and learning issues, such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorder and learning differences.
While the work of child therapists and child psychologists overlap in a lot of ways, there are some distinct differences in what they can offer you and your child.
A therapist can help your child to work through difficult situations, learn coping skills to manage intense feelings and help families get along better.
While a therapist can help treat your child’s emotional or mental health issues, they may not be the best fit if you need a diagnosis for an IEP (individualized education plan) or other school accommodations. Schools often prefer that you work with a psychologist for this.
Your child may benefit from seeing a therapist if:
A child psychologist can conduct many tests that therapists can’t, which can be helpful when you need more information about the source of your child’s difficulties or if your child needs an IEP.
Your child might benefit from seeing a psychologist if:
Both child therapists and child psychologists can’t prescribe medication. If your child needs medication to manage a more complex mental health condition, they may need to see a child psychiatrist, which is a medical doctor who’s an expert in the field of psychiatry — the branch of medicine focused on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication.
Child psychologists can treat many kinds of behavioral, emotional, social and mental health issues in children and adolescents. They can also help children with stressors and issues in school, with their family and in life in general.
The conditions and situations a child psychologist can help treat include:
Therapy is an invaluable tool that provides a safe space for adults and children alike to talk through and deal with the stressors life throws at us — whether they’re mental health conditions or temporary situations.
You know your child better than anyone else. If you feel your child is struggling with issues such as school, relationships, managing emotions, behavior and/or learning, they may benefit from seeing a child psychologist.
Here are a few general situations and behaviors to look out for that can help you decide if and when your child could benefit from seeing a child psychologist:
To become a child psychologist, you must successfully complete:
Licensed child psychologists also need to complete continuing education, such as conferences, research and classes, every year throughout their career to stay up to date with advances in their field.
It can take eight to 12 years or more to become a licensed child psychologist. It depends on how quickly you can earn a bachelor’s degree and a doctoral degree. You’ll also need to complete a one-year full-time internship during graduate school and may need another year of supervised practice depending on which state you’re planning to practice in.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
While it can be difficult to acknowledge that your child is having a difficult time mentally, emotionally, socially or behaviorally, seeking professional help for them is important. A child psychologist can help your child explore their feelings in a safe, supportive and nonjudgmental environment. They’re experts in their field and have up-to-date knowledge on research and therapy strategies that can help your child. Your child’s psychologist will work with you and them to determine a treatment plan that works best for your child.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/01/2022.
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