Psychologists get inside people's heads. They observe human behavior and ask questions to find out what people are thinking and what motivates them. They take the information they gather and interpret it in the context of an individual's history and environment. In short, they figure out what makes people tick. Some psychologists are generalists, and some specialize in a narrower field such as child psychology.
Child psychologists may provide therapy for children or they may work in other fields that involve kids. Such career options as school counseling, social work and clinical research appeal to child psychologists. These specialists also work with children who experience learning disabilities, autism, depression and anxiety disorders. They help children get through tough times. Law-enforcement officials often recommend that young crime victims talk to a child psychologist, and courts appoint them to suggest child custody arrangements in contested divorces.
Psychologists analyze the behavior and thinking of adults. Thoughts, emotions and feelings are their stock in trade. Therapeutic psychologists often work with patients who want to make positive changes in their lives, such as losing weight or gaining confidence. A psychologist helps the patient come up with a plan for change and provides support while the patient implements the plan. Psychologists might also conduct research, study workplace communication dynamics, and help seniors make the transition from work life to retirement and aging.
The primary difference between a general psychologist and a child psychologist is the age of the subjects that the psychologists study. Practitioners of child psychology study the thoughts and behaviors of children from a very young age through adolescence and teenage years to adulthood. They face special challenges communicating with their subjects, especially youngsters who may be too immature to articulate what they are feeling. In contrast, general psychologists work with adults who can understand the therapeutic process and can use their adult vocabulary to express their feelings.
The career paths for a general psychologist and a child psychologist are similar. Both positions require the practitioner to have a graduate-level degree in psychology. In both instances, job prospects are best for psychologists who hold a doctorate. Both positions require licensing or certification for practicing psychologists. Both kinds of psychologists do similar work, with the notable difference that child psychologists work exclusively with children and on children's issues.
Choosing a Specialty
A psychologist who loves children and has an abundance of patience may be drawn to specialize in child psychology. A healthy dose of creativity helps, because child psychologists may have to come up with unorthodox ways to communicate with their young patients. Some child psychologists use play therapy, art and music to interact with children. There are also several specialties, such as marriage counseling, for psychologists who prefer to work with adults.
Marilyn Lindblad practices law on the west coast of the United States. She has been a freelance writer since 2007. Her work has appeared on various websites. Lindblad received her Juris Doctor from Lewis and Clark Law School.