Child psychologists are psychologists who specialize in working with children and have a master’s degree in psychology. Because there is no specialized degree in this field in the United States, there is no clear distinction between a general psychologist and one who focuses on young people in most places. Professionals who want to work with children will often focus their studies on children’s psychological development and related issues, and they will have completed doctoral research or a thesis on a similar topic in most cases.
Treatment and Counseling
A child psychologist’s most common job is as a counselor in a clinical setting, diagnosing and treating patients. When a counselor works with children, he or she will usually modify traditional therapy approaches to make them more appropriate for them. This means that the psychologist may employ play, art, or music, particularly when working with young children, who lack the ability to analyze problems in the same way that adults do. A counselor may use a variety of other methods with older children, many of which are also used in adult therapy, such as talk therapy and role-playing.
Clinical psychologists assess children and treat them with a variety of treatments, including therapy. They may use diagnostic tests to see if a young patient has a learning disability or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Many researchers look into how a child’s behavior affects his or her physical health, and then work with the patient and his or her family to help them learn how to live healthier lives. Others assist patients with brain injuries or other brain-related physical issues that may affect their behavior.
It’s important to remember that a psychologist cannot usually prescribe medication. Prescriptions are usually only written psychiatrists, who are medical doctors. A psychologist, on the other hand, may be able to assist a child and his or her family in dealing with the medications that he or she is taking. If a counselor believes that a prescription would be beneficial to a child, he or she may refer the child to a pediatrician or psychiatrist, who will evaluate the child and determine whether medication is the best treatment option.
People in this field frequently work as researchers, specializing in areas such as learning theory and cognitive development. A developmental psychologist might be part of a research team that looks into learning disabilities and develops new tests to assess children’s development, for example. A health psychologist may conduct research on issues such as teen pregnancy or drug and alcohol abuse, as well as develop programs to address these issues.
Work in the Social Services
Some child psychologists also work as social workers with children and families who require immediate help. They may aid in the reunification of a family that has been separated for a long time, or they may aid in the learning of new skills neglectful or abusive parents. Children can often be returned to a safe home environment in this manner. Others may be able to assist families in locating and qualifying for assistance to ensure that their children are fed, clothed, and attend school. When assisting a child with a difficult family situation, a psychologist who also works as a social worker may take on some counseling responsibilities.
In the Criminal Justice System
Government agencies may hire child psychologists to assess children who have been the victims or perpetrators of crimes. They may testify in this capacity about the impact a crime may have had on a child. A forensic child psychologist may work with a child who has witnessed a crime to help him or her remember the details of what happened. Others may be able to assist the court in determining the reasons for certain behaviors if a child is charged with a crime.
Psychologists who work in schools
Child psychologists frequently work in schools to assist students who are dealing with family or educational problems. They can work as school district advisers, assisting in the formation of special education programs and the development of individualized education programs (IEPs) for students with disabilities. Someone in this position must also understand how changes in a child’s behavior can signal a more serious problem, such as domestic abuse or bullying. He or she may collaborate directly with teachers or the school administration to address issues such as student behavior, teaching methods, and other issues.
Writing and Education
After working as therapists or researchers for a long time, many people decide to pursue a career in writing. A well-written explanation of a particular aspect of child development or of a specific mental disorder affecting children can be a valuable resource for parents and other professionals. Some professionals may write books for kids to help them get through difficult times in their lives. If the books are well received, the child psychologist may be asked to speak as an expert in the field to schools, parent groups, or the media. Others enter teaching, usually at the college level, to assist in the training of future psychologists.
Getting a Job as a Child Psychologist
To become a psychologist, it typically takes several years of university study, with the majority of students continuing on to earn a doctoral degree. For some jobs, a master’s degree may be sufficient, but most employers prefer a PhD. A psychologist must still complete many hours of supervised training after receiving their degree before being licensed a state, province, or country. Anyone with a license can work with either children or adults, and many do. An expert who focuses on children typically does not require any additional training beyond a desire to work with children.