Psychology Jobs > Child Psychologist

As the name implies, a child psychologist mainly works with children helping them deal with a number of issues.

Child psychology was mostly ignored until the early 20th century until Sigmund Freud began focussing on the importance of childhood events and how they affected adults. Even with Freud's work, most people still believed that children thought and acted the same way as adults.

This concept was challenged by a researcher named Jean Piaget. Piaget proposed that children are not just small adults but actually think differently and process information in a different way than adults. Piaget proposed that all children go through different stages of development and within each stage there are specific skills and cognitive abilities that a child will develop.

Now most people recognize that children have different cognitive abilities depending on their age and a child psychologist is interested in both researching how children develop as well as helping children deal with issues that affect them. A child psychologist will look at the change in cognitive, psychosocial and physical development overtime as well as how these affect a child's ability to cope with a variety of situations.


What Issues Does A Child Psychologist Deal With?

There are a number of different issues that a child psychologist will deal with. Some of the issues include helping a child deal with sexual or physical abuse, working through peer relation problems as well as helping a child cope with parental divorce. Developmental problems, gender issues, cognitive development, psychiatric problems as well as academic problems may also be an issue dealt with by a child psychologist.

Basically, any issues that affect children or adolescents can be addressed by a child psychologist. At times a child psychologist may also do some work with the family if family issues are negatively impacting on the child.

What Does A Child Psychologist Do?

A child psychologist follows the same basic model of work that most clinical psychologists follow. The basic steps that all clinical psychologists follow include assessment, treatment and then a reassessment to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment. The difference between a psychologist focusing on children and a psychologist focusing on adults relates to how these steps are accomplished.

A child psychologist works with children in a variety of ways depending on their age. The traditional 'talk therapy' may not be appropriate for children because of their age or any developmental problems they may be experiencing.

As a result of this, child psychologists have developed a number of different ways to work with children. This does not mean that a child psychologist does not spend time talking to a child, all it means is that different methods may need to be used to connect to the child and begin dealing with the presenting problem.

Play Therapy

child psychologist job Play therapy is one of the most popular methods for engaging young children in the therapeutic process. This method is very useful for younger children who may not have the verbal skills necessary to express themselves as well as making children more comfortable in the therapy session.

A child psychologist will use a variety of toys such as dolls, play houses, cars and pets, and watch how the child interacts and plays with the objects. By watching the child, the toys chosen and how they are played with will help the child psychologist develop an understanding of the reasons for a child's behavior. The toys can also be used to help the child psychologist make a connection with the child and provide an opportunity to get the child talking.

Play therapy can be either directive or non-directive. In non-directive play therapy, the child psychologist does not participate as much and allows the children to choose which toys they will play with and how they will play with them. The child psychologist is much more directly involved with directive play therapy, often choosing the toys and modeling specific situations. The child and therapist can then use the situation and toys to role play possible solutions to the problem that is being modelled.

At present, there is a fair amount of debate as to which method is better or more appropriate. Most people seem to agree that no one approach is always the correct approach and that both directive and non-directive play are actually not that distinct.

Some aspects of a child psychologist's work may be viewed as non directive where as other aspects are directive. For example, a therapist may be non directive in the actual play session but then become very directive in terms of interpreting the play that occurred and how they talk to the child about the play.

On the other hand, a child psychologist could be more directive by choosing which methods and toys are used in a session but will be more non directive when interpreting the meaning behind the play with the child.

Directive play may be more appropriate in circumstances where the therapist needs to deal with traumatic issues such as abuse. The child psychologist may need to direct the play therapy so that the child is willing to bring up the traumatic event as well as deal with any issues that this may bring up.

Art Therapy

In art therapy, children use various art supplies such as crayons or paint to draw pictures. These pictures allow the child psychologist to begin to understand the emotions and concerns affecting a child. This is done by examining the art work that is created and asking the child questions about the picture that has just been painted. The child psychologist may ask about what is happening in the picture, who the people are or how the people are feeling. The art gives the child psychologist an opening to explore the thoughts and emotions that a client is experiencing.

Many people also view art as being therapeutic in itself. This means that the actual act of creating art can help people deal with issues they are facing.

Although art therapy has a number of proponents, some people have expressed concern about the idea of art itself being a healing process. The concept that art itself can be a healing process is a difficult concept to prove experimentally and people are left with unverifiable results.

The lack of research into the effectiveness of art therapy has also been a major criticism of the approach. There has been some research done but it is mainly published in art therapy journals, reviewed by other art therapists and not in independent research journals.

Child psychologists may see some improvement through the use of art therapy but it is difficult to say that the improvement was a result of the art therapy and not for some other reason.

Family Therapy

A child psychologist doesn't necessarily only work with the child but may also choose to work with the family as part of the child's treatment. The family is usually one of the most important parts of a child's life and it is important to ensure that any family issues are dealt with in order to help the child cope with problems.

In fact, some of the problems that a child or adolescent may be facing could be directly related to problems within the family so it is important for the child psychologist to address these family problems as well.

An example of a family problem that can affect children is divorce. A divorce can be a confusing time for children as they attempt to make sense of this fundamental change in their living situation.

A divorce can cause children to experience grief as well as anger over the divorce. The anger may be directed at one parent or both. Girls have a tendency to become more withdrawn and anxious during a divorce while boys can become more disobedient and aggressive. These are all issues that a child psychologist can help children deal with so that they come to accept the divorce in a more appropriate manner.

Behavior Modification

Behavior modification will usually happen when a child's behaviour is either dangerous or extremely disruptive. The goal of therapy is to first reduce the frequency of these behaviours happening so that the child psychologist can then begin to deal with the reasons for these behaviors.

The child psychologist will usually develop a program of immediate rewards and consequences to reinforce positive behaviour and limit negative behaviour. The therapist will need to work closely with the family and the school to ensure that they know how to run the program. This will help make sure that the behaviour modification program is a success.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a relatively new technique used with both children and adults. The technique is used with children who have experienced a traumatic event and as a result are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. The traumatic event could be the result of abuse or even natural disasters.

During therapy, the child psychologist will first have the child remember the traumatic event. While the child is remembering the details of the event, the child psychologist will usually have the child move his or her eyes back and forth by following a moving object.

After the child has done this for a while, the child psychologist will ask the child about any thoughts that arose, any feelings, images or body sensations. The child is then requested to focus on this new sensation while following the moving object with his or her eyes again. This process is repeated a number of times until the child reports that the perceived stress level has decreased.

It is believed that the new stimulus that occurs during the child's remembrance of the traumatic event will help the child reprocess the event and decrease the emotional impact of the event.

These are only a few of the possible techniques that a child psychologist could use in delivering service to a child. There are a number of other techniques including cognitive behavioural therapy, group therapy as well as newer techniques like neurofeedback and biofeedback that could be used. The type of therapy that will be used depends on the child, the presenting problem as well as the child psychologist's personal preferences.

Types of Jobs for a Child Psychologist

There are a number of areas or organizations that a child psychologist can find work. Any organization that deals with children and adolescents may need the services of a child psychologist.

Legal Setting

A child psychologist can find work in a number of areas within the legal setting. The child psychologist may work with young offenders who are in a juvenile detention centre as well as perform court appointed assessments.

Performing an assessment on a child who is the victim of a crime or even on the perpetrator of the crime is another area within a legal setting where a child psychologist may be necessary. The child psychologist will look at what impact the crime has had on the child or help explain the reasons that may have resulted in the child committing a crime.

If a child is a witness to a crime, a child psychologist may work with the child to help the child accurately report what was seen as well as helping the child be comfortable testifying in a court setting.

A child psychologist may also end up working with children who are caught in the middle of a custody dispute if their parents are divorcing. The psychologist may need to make a recommendation as to who gets custody or just work with children to help them deal with the impact of the divorce.


A school setting may be one of the more obvious places for a child psychologist to work. School can be a traumatic place for children and they may need help working through a variety of issues. Children can end up having difficulty dealing with peers, teachers or even following the routines in school. A child may also be suffering from some developmental delays that affect his or her ability to function at school.

A child psychologist will work closely with the teachers and other professionals to set up a program to ensure that the child's time at school is a success as well as providing individual counselling to the child.

Mental Health Organizations

There are a number of mental health organizations that need child psychologists. These organizations provide counselling to children for a variety of reasons and may also end up working with the family to deal with family issues that are affecting the child. These issues could be related to abuse, divorce, social skills development or even addictions to name a few. A child psychologist in a mental health organization may also end up dealing with school issues if necessary.


A child psychologist may also find work in a children's hospital or any hospital that deals with children as patients. You may need to help children deal with their illness or their family member's illness. Dealing with children who have developmental disabilities or brain injuries as well as neuromotor disorders can also be a large part of working in a hospital setting. The main issues that you will deal with in a hospital setting depend largely on the type of hospital you are working in.

Research and Teaching

Child psychologists can also become heavily involved in research. You could help perform research into a number of different areas such as learning disabilities, cognitive development, effects of drug and alcohol abuse on children and even learning theory. All of this research is directed at developing a better understanding of children, their development and how they cope with a variety of problems.

In addition to conducting research, a child psychologist may work at a University or College teaching about child psychology.

How To Become A Child Psychologist

As with most psychologist positions, you will usually need either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. in order to become a child psychologist. You will also need to be licensed in your individual state. Although there may be no specific educational requirements to working with children, it would be beneficial to learn the basics of child development, learning processes and family systems as well as any other courses that may help you understand and treat children better.

The overall job outlook for child psychologists looks good and will continue to grow according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor. The rate of job growth is estimated to continue at a rate higher than the average job growth rate, particularly for psychologists working with children in schools.

If you have a strong interest in working with children in a variety of situations then becoming a child psychologist may be a good choice for you. You will have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of a number of children regardless of which area of child psychology you choose to work in.