A child psychologist is a professional who is trained in the psychological processes of children. They’re also experts in how the minds and behaviors of children differ from adults.
Typically, a child psychologist will have a master’s degree or, more commonly, a doctoral degree in psychology. They usually also have extensive clinical experience as part of their degree program.
What does a child psychologist do?
In general, child psychologists are either predominantly practice-based or research-based. Those who practice typically work directly with children and their families. They may diagnose psychiatric conditions, administer psychological tests and screenings, and oversee treatments.
A research-based child psychologist conducts research into the psychological processes of children. They are typically affiliated with a university or institute that funds and oversees such research.
They work to advance the field of knowledge by creating, conducting, and analyzing studies on the mental development of children.
(Note — a child therapist is not the same thing; child therapist is a general term you can read more about here.)
How can a child psychologist help my child?
A child psychologist can help in a variety of ways. First, they can diagnose learning or behavioral disorders. If your child is struggling in one of these areas, they can help pinpoint the specific cause(s) of the problem.
Second, they can administer psychological tests and screenings. This is related to the previous point but is an important addition. Sometimes a pediatrician may suspect a child has autism, but will refer the family to a child psychologist for a more specialized assessment. For school-aged children, their IEP team may also use that formal data as part of the IEP process.
Third, and probably most importantly, they can help formulate a treatment plan for your child. If your child is suffering from a behavioral or thought disorder, they can suggest specific coping strategies and treatment goals. They can also help monitor progress towards those goals.
Can a child psychologist prescribe medication?
No. Child psychologists are typically PhDs (doctors of philosophy), not medical doctors (MDs). Therefore, they can’t prescribe medication.
If your child would benefit from medication as part of their treatment for a psychological disorder, you will need to see either your pediatrician or a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating behavioral and thought disorders.
It isn’t uncommon for a child to see both a psychologist for counseling and therapy and a psychiatrist for medication management.
Ultimately, there are many different child specialists who can help your child thrive when things prove challenging. Professionals should work cooperatively with the child and parents, as well as with one another, to provide the child with the greatest chance of success.