Child psychology is a specialized branch of psychology combining the application of traditional psychotherapy with a background in child development. Child and adolescent psychologists may work in hospitals, schools, government agencies, or have private practices. The responsibilities of child psychologists are divided broadly into four categories.
When a child is referred to a psychologist, either by a primary care physician, teacher, or by the child's parents themselves, it is often to assess the child for particular problems. Clinical child and adolescent psychologists are trained to evaluate children for a host of emotional, behavioral, and developmental disorders and complications. They use a variety of specialized assessments and tests to determine whether a child meets the criteria for certain diagnoses. Diagnosing is the first step in understanding how to treat a child.
Once a diagnosis has been made, a child psychologist will carry out a customized treatment geared toward the child's specific diagnosis. This could include individual psychotherapy, family therapy, or play therapy. The psychologist may refer the child to a psychiatrist if she determines that the child could benefit from medication. She may also work with the child's caregivers and teachers to implement effective behavioral guidelines or new disciplinary policies to support the child's positive growth.
Clinical child psychologists are part of an essential team that works together to provide a stable foundation for a child. Others on this team include the child's caregivers and primary care physician, and may also include his teachers, social workers, mentors, lawyers, coaches, religious leaders, medical specialists and any other professionals concerned with the child's welfare. Child psychologists communicate with other team members about how the child is performing in all spheres of life and works with the team to create the best possible treatment plan for that child.
Child psychologists are also concerned with reducing the number of children who develop emotional and behavioral problems. This could take the form of educational programs or awareness campaigns aimed at curbing traumatic experiences in the lives of children. Child psychologists may work with school officials to establish anti-bullying policies or teach a course in safe sex to teenagers. They may be asked to serve on boards for child welfare agencies or to help write training materials and manuals for programs affecting children.
Parker Janney is a web developer and writer based in Philadelphia. With a Master of Arts in international politics, she has been ghostwriting for several underground publications since the late 2000s, with works featured in "Virtuoso," the "Philadelphia Anthropology Journal" and "Clutter" magazine.