What is Child Psychotherapy?

Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee
A child psychotherapist may specialize in working with adolescents.
A child psychotherapist may specialize in working with adolescents.

Child psychotherapy is a type of clinical psychology that usually aims to help infants, children, adolescents and their families cope with psychiatric illness and emotional problems. Therapists must generally receive special training in order to work with children, since children and adults often have very different means of expressing their feelings. Child psychotherapists often work with the families of their patients as well, to help other members of the household learn to cope with a child's emotional or psychiatric problems. Child psychotherapy seeks to help children and adolescents resolve a wide range of emotional and psychological problems, including childhood depression, developmental delays, and behavioral problems. Child psychotherapists can also help children and adolescents cope with the problems relating to grief, loss, and trauma.

Child psychotherapy aims to help children cope with emotional problems.
Child psychotherapy aims to help children cope with emotional problems.

Therapists who practice child psychotherapy must often use means different from those used in adult psychotherapy. While most adults are aware of their feelings and capable of expressing said feelings verbally, children may not have this power. While most children are capable of speech, younger children often haven't yet developed the ability to recognize their own feelings and express them in words. Adolescents, on the other hand, are often capable of putting their feelings and beliefs into words. A child psychotherapist may therefore treat an adolescent patient more like an adult, while still employing some techniques of child psychotherapy as necessary.

Pediatric therapists often use play therapy to help a child express her emotions.
Pediatric therapists often use play therapy to help a child express her emotions.

Psychologists use techniques such as play therapy and parent-child interaction therapy to uncover children's feelings. Children are considered to reveal much about their feelings, needs, beliefs, and experiences while engaged in play. Children who are old enough to speak fluently are often gently encouraged to discuss their experiences, feelings, and beliefs in the context of a game.

Therapists who practice child psychotherapy must use different means than those used for adults.
Therapists who practice child psychotherapy must use different means than those used for adults.

Parent-child interaction therapy is a different technique that seeks to address problems in the parent-child relationship. This type of child psychotherapy can be particularly useful for toddlers with developmental or behavioral problems. Therapists typically observe how their patients interact with their parents or caregivers, in order to evaluate how that interaction might be influencing the child. Changes in parental behavior toward the child can help resolve the child's behavioral and emotional problems. Parents and caregivers can help children cope with psychiatric, developmental, and behavioral problems by interacting with children in ways that help meet their individualized needs.

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    • A child psychotherapist may specialize in working with adolescents.
      A child psychotherapist may specialize in working with adolescents.
    • Child psychotherapy aims to help children cope with emotional problems.
      Child psychotherapy aims to help children cope with emotional problems.
    • Pediatric therapists often use play therapy to help a child express her emotions.
      Pediatric therapists often use play therapy to help a child express her emotions.
    • Therapists who practice child psychotherapy must use different means than those used for adults.
      Therapists who practice child psychotherapy must use different means than those used for adults.