What is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist?
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- Broadly defined, a child and adolescent psychotherapist is a licensed mental health provider who has specialized training and works with children and adolescents. Child psychotherapists may vary in their training from mental health counselors and social workers who often are trained at a Master’s level to licensed psychologists who complete doctoral level training, internship and residency. See here for differences in mental health training.
- Child psychotherapists with training as licensed psychologists must also pass a rigorous national examination as well as examination on state rules and regulations which all psychologists must take as part of the licensure process. They may have training in diverse treatment modalities and typically have had advanced training in child development, child stages, child adjustment issues, parenting issues as well as normal and abnormal child psychology.
- While approaches may vary from psychodynamic, eclectic, behavioral, cognitive-behavioral most child therapists use a combination of approaches dependent on the characteristics of the child and problem they are working with. Many child psychologists also have training in special techniques such as play therapy. While training and experience play important parts in child therapy, often the most successful child therapists have that special gift of genuine caring that children seem to naturally sense.
- Child psychotherapists treat a variety of normal adjustment issues such as dealing with anxiety of a move, a new sibling, loss of a family member, fears, nightmares, peer difficulties, social skill problems, school avoidance or school performance, sibling rivalry, self-esteem issues or dealing with dating, parent-child issues and adolescent conflict. See our articles and files for some parenting tips.
- Some child psychologists have specialty training in pediatric psychology. While this generally refers to the psychological treatment of children, it is commonly used to refer to the psychology of children with a variety of medical disorders, such as diabetes, cardiac conditions, pediatric cancer, growth issues, renal problems, traumatic injuries, eatings disorders, and chronic pain. Pediatric psychologists often have training in child medical units or medical centers that specialize in children. They often have skills in dealing with reductions of medical compliance, pre-surgical and other anxieties about medical procedures as well as psychosomatic or somatoform disorders.
- Child psychotherapy can be more demanding than other forms of therapy, since child psychologists or therapist often must seek and integrate information from other sources, such as parents or school. Children may take longer to establish a relationship in which they will communicate their issues, so patience is a key. Younger children may also have limits in their vocabulary and communication skills, so learning to listen to their language behavior and play is critical, as is getting information from parents and others who observe and interact with the children. Adolescents as well as children can sometimes want to hide problems out of shame or embarrassment. Children with conduct problems may also minimize or deny these, making the establishment of trust difficult and which also often requires gathering information from parents or caretakers.
- Child psychologists in medical settings are often part of a multi-disciplinary medical team. On an outpatients basis they may coordinate treatment and interact with primary care physicians, psychiatrists, pediatricians, coaches and teachers.
- Clinical child psychologists also often work with children and adolescents who may have behavioral or psychiatric difficulties such as childhood depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, childhood anxiety disorder, developmental problems, eating disorders, as well as more serious disorders such as bipolar disorder.
- With younger children child psychotherapists often work for parents to assist with behavioral approaches and situations which the child may face. Issues of maintaining the trust and confidence of adolescents often means that sometimes family therapy may be conducted by another therapist.
- Goals of child and adolescent psychotherapy often depend on the nature of the presenting problem. This may range from improved mood, reduced anxiety, improved self-esteem, or improved social skills, to reductions of behavior problems, aggression or reduced self-destructive behaviors, resolution of conflicts, coping with stressors, and dealing with medical issues are also often targets of intervention.
- Clinical Psychology Associates of North Central Florida provides psychological and neuropsychological consultation, assessment and psychotherapy services through its offices in Gainesville and Ocala, Florida. Call 352-336-2888 to ask about an appointment.
Colleen Cummings, Ph.D., licensed psychologist, is a child and adolescent psychotherapist. She treats a variety of child and adolescent disorders and has expertise in evidence-based practice in the assessment and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders. Update 11/24/14: Colleen Cummings, Ph.D. now practices as a licensed psychologist in Rockville, Maryland. Her practice website link is: http://www.alvordbaker.com/.