The Role of a Child Psychologist

Data from the CDC indicates there are millions of children suffering from mental health disorders. Over time this rate has increased rather than decreased. Child psychologists are professionals who research and support the mental health of children. Read on to learn how they help children to better understand and express their thoughts and emotions, better their relationship with their parents and take charge of their overall well-being.

What is the role of a child psychologist?

According to the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2016 and 2019 a large number of children aged 3-17 years were diagnosed with the following disorders:

  • Depression 4.4% (approximately 2.7 million)
  • Behavioral problems 8.9 (approximately 5.5 million)
  • Anxiety 9.4% (approximately 5.8 million)
  • ADHD 9.4 % (approximately 6.0 million)

Given these statistics, we can see that a serious number of children suffer from mental ailments. Child psychologists can play a crucial role in helping kids lead happier and better lives. They work with children and adolescents and are able to evaluate, diagnose, and treat their mental issues.

Some parents may ignore their children’s problems, as there can be a stigma attached to getting help from a psychologist, and some parents are unsure how to help on their own. However, mental disorders can worsen with time if they are not addressed.

A child psychologist can treat children and work with parents, teachers, and other professionals to support the mental health and healthy development of their child.

What does a child psychologist do?

A family of 2 adults and a child sitting on a couch and attending a therapy session.

Child psychologists can help parents to identify children's needs and to support their healing


Child psychology is a branch of psychology with a clinical and research focus on children and adolescents. Child psychologists address the specific needs of this particular age group, as children and adolescents can experience a wide range of mental illnesses and disorders. In addition, child psychologists work with children and their families to evaluate, diagnose, and create treatment plans.

The clinical practice of a child psychologist

A child psychologist will evaluate a child and, after diagnosis, will decide whether to start working with the family and other professionals, such as teachers, social workers, and medical doctors, to create a holistic treatment plan.

This treatment could include individual therapy sessions with the child, family therapy sessions, or both, to improve communication and family relationships. Child psychologists use various techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), art therapy, and child-centered therapy, to treat a child or adolescent’s mental illness.

Research has shown that Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, is an effective treatment for a significant number of mental disorders. This therapeutic method aims to help children by addressing their negative or dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors. For instance, they will work together to change negative thoughts such as “I am a horrible person because I failed this exam” to “It’s not great that I failed this exam, but I will do better in the future.”

Thought patterns such as these are overgeneralizations that could damage the self-esteem of children and adolescents if consistent in a child’s life. Moreover, damage to self-esteem combined with other negative thought patterns can lead to mental ailments.

A child psychologist may work in settings such as private practice, hospitals, schools, clinics, and government agencies. Some child psychologists choose to specialize in a particular area, such as clinical child and adolescent psychology, where they will only work with specific mental health disorders and difficulties. Others choose to work as school psychologists, offering mental health services to children in a school setting.

A child psychologist will work with a variety of behavioral, social, and mental health issues. Some of the disorders that a child psychologist may treat are:

  • attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • autism spectrum disorder
  • dyslexia
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • depression
  • anxiety

Disorders such as these can harm a child’s development and impose significant challenges that can negatively affect their relationships, school performance, and overall well-being. A child psychologist can help kids and adolescents improve their coping skills, communication, social skills, and their quality of life. Furthermore, they can guide children to manage the symptoms of mental disorders and even overcome them.

Skills and qualifications required for a child psychologist

A child psychology career begins with the pursuit of a bachelor's degree at a college or university, which typically takes four years. After that, an aspiring child psychologist will complete a doctoral degree in psychology - either PhD or PsyD - with a focus on child and adolescent development, which takes four to six years. Many programs provide specialized training and opportunities to gain experience working with children and their families while pursuing a degree. This may include the required completion of a one-year full-time internship.

The coursework of programs aimed at educating and training child psychologists cover areas of psychology, including developmental psychology, child psychopathology, and family therapy.  After finishing a program, students will need to pass a licensing exam to become licensed child psychologists. Some states also require a supplementary year of supervised clinical practice before earning licensure.

In order to receive board certification in clinical child and adolescent psychology from the American Board of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (ABCCAP), there are several requirements to meet. These requirements include obtaining a doctorate accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA), holding a state license, and gaining specialized experience through clinical practice. Mental health professionals will also need to complete an internship and postdoctoral supervised practice and must have at least three years of post-degree experience in child psychology. While this board certification from ABCCAP is not legally required, many agencies will require or prefer it for employment, as it proves valuable expertise to help clients.

Why is the field of child psychology important?

Child psychology is a branch of psychology that is dedicated to supporting the mental health of children and adolescents and to the scientific study of their behavior and development. Here are five important impacts of child psychology:

  • Understanding child development: Researchers from the field of child psychology help illuminate through their work how children develop and grow emotionally and physically. This is fundamental for parents, teachers, and other caregivers as this knowledge can provide guidance as to how to support and guide the children in their different stages of development.
  • Establishing effective parent-child communication: Child psychologists can help children better understand and express their thoughts and feelings. In addition, they can aid parents in communicating with their children and identifying their needs efficiently.
  • Promoting positive school performance: Children and adolescents go through various challenges and difficulties in school, which can be extremely difficult to overcome, such as bullying and low self-esteem. A child psychologist can help children and their parents develop strategies to deal with these kinds of problems and can collaborate with teachers to create a school environment that maximizes each child’s potential.
  • Improving children's well-being: Child psychology research has identified some of the most important factors for child well-being and happiness. A child psychologist can help parents consider these factors and create a favorable context for their child's healthy development.
  • Preventing and treating mental health problems: Child psychologists can evaluate, diagnose, and provide treatment plans for children and adolescents. They collaborate with other professionals, such as medical doctors, to ensure the needs of a child are met. They are able to identify mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety in children and help them manage their symptoms and overcome their ailments.

The challenges and career opportunities of a child psychologist

A child psychologist holds a red sad face and a blue happy face for a child to choose from during a therapy session. The child points at the happy face.

Child psychologists guide children to better understand and express their emotions.


Child psychologists must deal with a variety of challenges in their careers. For example, children and adolescents may have difficulties communicating their thoughts and feelings, making the therapeutic process troublesome.

Child psychologists may also need to balance a busy clinical practice with research projects they could be working on. Dealing with sensitive and potentially emotional topics can be overwhelming, especially in conjunction with outside factors.

Pursuing a career as a child psychologist requires a lot of time and dedication. Considering the challenges ahead of time can help prevent any regret in the decision to become one.

Career opportunities

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of psychologists working in clinical, consulting, and research areas is expected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is as fast as the average for all occupations.

This means there will likely be an increasing demand for child psychologists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected around 14,100 openings for psychologists each year, on average, over the decade.

The increased demand may result from increased recognition of the importance of mental health and the need to support children and adolescents suffering from mental ailments. This need was already marked by worsening rates of children suffering from conditions such as anxiety, which, according to the CDC, increased from 5.5% in 2007 to 6.4% in 2011-2012.

Child psychologists are trained to work with both children and adults, as they often provide counseling and therapy services to families as well as individuals. This dynamic can be highly rewarding for aspiring therapists because it allows them to work with a wide range of clients and better understand the unique challenges that children and their families might face.

If you are considering a career in child psychology, it is important to think about whether you are comfortable working with both adults and children. If this sounds like something you would enjoy, we encourage you to check out our Psychology Program Overview or speak with an Admissions Advisor to learn more about our programs.


  1. Hofmann, S. G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I. J., Sawyer, A. T., & Fang, A. (2012). The efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy: A review of meta-analyses. Cognitive therapy and research, 36(5), 427-440.
  2. Bitsko RH, Claussen AH, Lichtstein J, Black LJ, Everett Jones S, Danielson MD, Hoenig JM, Davis Jack SP, Brody DJ, Gyawali S, Maenner MM, Warner M, Holland KM, Perou R, Crosby AE, Blumberg SJ, Avenevoli S, Kaminski JW, Ghandour RM. Surveillance of Children’s Mental Health – United States, 2013 – 2019 MMWR, 2022 / 71(Suppl-2);1–42.

People Also Ask

What does a psychologist do for children?

Child psychologists work with children and adolescents in order to identify, diagnose, and treat a large range of mental, emotional, and behavioral issues. They use a variety of techniques to treat children, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), art therapy, and play therapy.

A child psychologist will also consult with other healthcare professionals, such as medical doctors, to ensure children receive comprehensive care for any medical issues they might have. They will also work with parents to help create a context conducive to their child's healthy development and with teachers to encourage positive school performance.

Child psychologists can work in various settings, including schools, hospitals, clinics, and research organizations. They can work with children who suffer from developmental disorders, learning disabilities, depression, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and more.

What is the difference between a child therapist and a child psychologist?

Child therapists and child psychologists are professionals who aim to support the mental health of children and adolescents and help them overcome their issues. However, their training and approach to working with clients are different.

Child therapists generally have a master’s degree in a mental health-related field such as counseling, psychology, family therapy, or social work. They use talk therapy and other forms of counseling to help children improve their coping skills and emotional regulation and solve their inner conflicts.

On the other hand, child psychologists have a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) in psychology and use empirical-based tools to assess children’s behaviors and mental processes. They are able to conduct tests to help diagnose mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and an autism spectrum disorder. Because a child psychologist’s training is broader than that of a child therapist, they might also work as teachers, professors, and researchers while taking clients for their private practice.

Why would you see a child psychologist?

Children and adolescents go through many experiences as they grow and develop, some of which could come with challenges and difficulties predisposing them to develop mental disorders. Child psychologists are equipped to evaluate, diagnose and create treatment plans that could support a child’s mental health.

If parents are concerned that their child suffers from a mental illness, they are advised to look for signs such as:

  • the presence of aggressive or impulsive behaviors
  • struggles with learning and paying attention in school
  • frequent mood swings, and difficulty in managing their emotions
  • difficulty in adjusting to significant life changes, such as divorce
  • frequent conflicts with friends and family

Child psychologists use various techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and play therapy, to help improve a child’s communication skills, emotional regulation, and general well-being. They may collaborate with various other professionals, such as medical doctors and the child’s parents, to create the context for the child’s healthy development.

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