What Does a Child Therapist Do?

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There’s a lot of uncertainty about the roles of different professionals in helping children with their mental health. This is particularly true in the area of child therapists.

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Is a child therapist the same as a child psychologist?

No. Child therapist is an umbrella term that can describe several professionals who help children with their mental health needs. This might include counselors, social workers, and others.

On the other hand, a child psychologist is a person who is trained in the practice of psychology with children. This typically includes a Master’s Degree or PhD, as well as many hours of clinical practice experience.  You can read more about child psychologists and their qualifications and functions here. 

In short, a child psychologist is also considered a child therapist by default, but the reverse isn’t true.

teen talking with child therapist in office
Photo credit: Adobe Photo Stock

How can a child therapist help my child?

While they may not have the same qualifications as a child psychologist, a child therapist can still help children in a variety of ways and settings.

They will not typically diagnose a medical or psychiatric condition (as they are not medical doctors or psychologists). However, they can provide therapeutic or rehabilitative interventions, depending on their area of expertise.

For example, a school counselor may work with a child who struggles with school anxiety. They won’t make a psychiatric diagnosis of anxiety, but they can help the child brainstorm and implement coping strategies.

The counselor may help the child set goals for consecutive days of attendance or provide them with a “flash pass” to use to leave class when the feelings of anxiety are too much to tolerate.

A child therapist who specializes in family therapy may meet with children and their parents who are experiencing volatility in their family relationships. The therapist can help pinpoint the sources of tensions and suggest strategies to increase harmony between the child and parent(s).

Child therapist is a broad term, so make sure you know what you’re getting.

The term “child therapist” is so broad that it’s almost unhelpful. In fact, most professionals avoid using the term for this specific reason.

If you think your child would benefit from therapy, as a general rule, you will seek out a specific professional that best fits your child’s needs.

If your child needs help managing their day at school, you might consult a school counselor. A child who regularly gets into trouble in the community may see a social worker. If your child struggles to independently perform everyday tasks, like feeding or getting dressed, you may consult an occupational therapist. 

Whoever your child sees for therapy, the most important thing is that the provider is a qualified, appropriately licensed child specialist. Someone operating outside of their professional area of expertise can ultimately do more harm than good.

Beyond that, who you select to provide your child’s therapy services is really up to you and your child.

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