Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychologist: Your Pediatric Therapy & Counseling Specialist

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is a child and adolescent psychologist?

A clinical child and adolescent psychologist specializes in preventing, diagnosing and treating psychological problems and mental and behavioral health disorders in young children and teens. Commonly known as a child psychologist, they perform mental health evaluations and use talk therapy and other techniques to help young people overcome mental health problems and emotional challenges.

A clinical child and adolescent psychologist may conduct research, teach, develop and evaluate programs, create public policy, consult, provide expert testimony, and counsel patients in a private practice.

A child psychologist typically:  

  • Conducts clinically relevant research and teaches and supervises other mental healthcare providers

  • Provides mental health counseling, psychotherapy, and crisis intervention

  • Develops treatment plans for patients and re-evaluates and modifies these plans as needed

  • Collaborates, refers and consults with other members of the patient's healthcare team, such as psychiatrists, pediatricians, and behavior therapists

  • Involuntarily commits patients in emergency situations

Clinical child and adolescent psychologists may also be known by the following names: child psychologist, child and adolescent psychologist, child therapist, child and adolescent therapist, child psychotherapist, child and adolescent psychotherapist, or pediatric psychologist.

Other types of healthcare providers who offer similar care as clinical child and adolescent psychologists include clinical psychologists, child and adolescent psychiatrists, social workers, school counselors, mental health assistants, and marriage and family therapists.

Who should see a child and adolescent psychologist?

Your pediatrician may recommend psychological evaluation and treatment if your young child or teen has signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder. Clinical child and adolescent psychologists evaluate and treat children of all ages with behavior disorders, developmental disorders, addiction, eating disorders, and depression, among other conditions. 

What does a child and adolescent psychologist treat?

A child psychologist treats the following conditions in the very young to high school-age children:

What does a child and adolescent psychologist test?

A child psychologist can perform or order a variety of tests to assess a young person's mental health. Most tests are patient interviews, inventories, checklists and rating scales, and direct observation. Tests used by a clinical child and adolescent psychologist may include:

  • Forensic assessment tests including general violence, family violence, and sexual abuse risk assessments. Clinical child and adolescent psychologists use forensic tests in legal matters.

  • Mental health assessments and evaluations to identify mental illness and evaluate treatment progress

  • Neuropsychological tests including memory, cognitive function, and visual perception tests

  • Personality and intelligence tests including the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator, Rorschach Inkblot test, IQ tests, and aptitude assessments

  • Suicide risk assessments including suicide checklists

What treatments and interventions does a child and adolescent psychologist do?

Child and adolescent psychologists treat individual children, children and their families, and groups of children. The specific type of treatment, whether individual, family or group, depends on the psychologist’s individual practice.

However, psychologists do not prescribe medication therapy. If your condition requires medication, your psychologist will refer you to a child and adolescent psychiatrist for further evaluation and treatment.

Common treatments and interventions psychologists provide include: 

  • Crisis counseling including short-term therapy to help patients overcome an immediate traumatic or overwhelming crisis

  • Involuntary commitment to a hospital or mental institution if the patient is at risk of suicide, self-harm, or hurting others

  • Prevention and recovery programs including addiction and eating disorder rehabilitation

  • Psychotherapy (talk therapy) including cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy, psychoanalysis, and psychodynamic therapy

Child and adolescent psychologist training and certification

The field of psychology covers many different specialties, and it can be confusing to find the right type of provider to meet your family’s needs. Any licensed psychologist who provides psychological services and treatment to young people may be known as a child psychologist—they do not have to be board certified in the specialty of child psychology to practice it. However, formal training, experience, and up-to-date board certification in clinical child and adolescent psychology are significant. They establish a psychologist's continued level of expertise in the field.

When you need an experienced and qualified child psychologist, look for a clinical child and adolescent psychologist who is board certified by the American Board of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (ABCCAP). Board certification verifies the psychologist meets the most current requirements to practice in the specialty.

A board-certified and licensed clinical child and adolescent psychologist has:

  • Earned a doctoral degree. You may see the credentials PsyD (Doctor of Psychology), PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in psychology, or EdD (Doctor of Education) in psychology.

  • Completed a one-year internship in professional psychology from an accredited institution. At least two-thirds of the internship must involve work with children or adolescents.

  • Obtained a license to practice psychology

  • Completed a supervised, postdoctorate training program in clinical child and adolescent psychology

  • Passed a Board evaluation and examination that validates the psychologist’s specialized knowledge and skills in clinical child and adolescent psychology. 

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jan 22
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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