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What does a Child Psychiatrist do?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Child psychiatry makes up a very small percentage of psychiatrists, but these doctors have specific work that takes place in a variety of settings. The child psychiatrist may treat young children and adolescents. In this capacity, he or she performs many different types of work with kids under the age of 18 that assist in treating an array of mental health issues.

Work setting of the child psychiatrist may partly inform type of work. Psychiatrists may have a private practice in a community or they could work for agencies meant to assist families or children in crisis like child protective services. Some psychiatrists also have training in forensics and might work in the justice system, either on behalf of children or for the state. There are mental health wards that serve children specifically, and many professionals get work in one of these facilities to help kids that need acute treatment or that have chronic mental problems.

In any of these capacities the child psychiatrist can begin work as a diagnostician, determining the exact nature of mental health issue/s. These practitioners may then derive a treatment plan, which frequently includes administration of appropriate medications. Once treatment is in place, the patient very often needs medication adjustment, and the child psychiatrist may determine med changes or dosage based on behavior of the client and often in conjunction with speaking to family members or guardians. Finding the right medication and dose may then lead to having follow-up sessions with children as time goes on to make certain treatment is still appropriate; as children grow and change, they may routinely require dosage changes and they usually need careful following.

Especially in any form of private practice, interacting with parents/guardians becomes some of the work of the child psychiatrist. Children can’t always articulate their problems or issues, so establishing rapport with watchful parents can help guide treatment. On the other hand, sometimes parents are not a good resource or are unavailable, and this would mean the child psychiatrist might gather data about response to treatment from personal observation. In hospital settings part of this observation might be the responsibility of other health care workers.

Treatment observation may be more extensive if the child psychiatrist not only prescribes medication, but also offers therapy. Not all of these specialists work as psychotherapists, but some do. In circumstances where child psychiatrists only prescribe medication, they may work with parents and other mental health professionals like marriage and family therapists, licensed clinical social workers, and psychologists, who are principal therapy sources for the child.

Other jobs for the child psychiatrist could include testifying in court about the mental fitness of a child. Alternately psychiatrists could examine and write reports and recommendations regarding custody placement of children who have previously been injured by parents or guardians. Some psychiatrists do research or work on developing new treatments for children, and they might not regularly treat patients.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a PracticalAdultInsights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By latte31 — On Feb 03, 2011

Mutsy - I agree that the child psychiatrist career would be rewarding, but I think that it could be draining too.

Some of these cases are really sad and you really have to keep your emotions in check when you are talking to these young patients.

By mutsy — On Jan 31, 2011

Icecream17 - I did not know that there was such a shortage of child psychiatrists. It is really a shame because many of these children can grow up and lead productive and happy lives if they receive the proper medication and therapy.

Seeing a child psychiatrist also gives the child’s symptoms legitimacy and makes them realize that they just need a little help in order to feel better.

Some children feel stigmatized by their disorder and a child psychiatrist helps the child cope in constructive ways.

By icecream17 — On Jan 29, 2011

Sunshine31 - I was reading the other day that there was a huge shortage of child psychiatrists. In fact there are only about 7,500 practicing child psychiatrist with a population of about 75 million children.

About 19% of these kids have mental disorders but you can see by the numbers there are not a lot of child psychiatrists to come by. I think it has to do with the extensive training requirements because only about 300 complete their training every year.

The huge debt and the problems with reimbursements don’t help matters either. Some just decide to focus on becoming a pediatrician instead.

A pediatrician can diagnose and treat many mental and behavior disorders but a condition like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder has to be treated by a psychiatrist.

If these children don’t get the help they need it could lead to drug problems, dropping out of school, and even problems with the law. Being able to find a child psychiatrist is a big problem for our children today.

By sunshine31 — On Jan 26, 2011

I think that a child psychiatrist job would be very rewarding but it takes a lot to get there. The child psychiatrist requirements include, a Bachelor’s degree followed by a medical school degree along with a four year residency and a two year fellowship beyond that.

After your fellowship requirements are completed you can sit for your medical board’s exam and receive your license. Many child psychiatrists receive job offers from hospitals where they did their residency or fellowship.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a PracticalAdultInsights contributor,...
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