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What Does a Child Psychiatrist Do?

A child psychiatrist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating behavioral disorders in children up until the age of 18. This kind of psychiatrist uses their knowledge, training, and experience to offer treatment solutions, including medication, that will best help a child or adolescent with their unique challenges. Child psychiatrists take many factors into consideration— including biological and  psychological influences—to help kids and their families cope with interpersonal relationships, stress, and crises.

Child Psychiatrists vs Child Psychologists
The Difference Between a Child Psychiatrist and a Child Psychologist Child psychiatrists and child psychologists both diagnose and treat mental health disorders in children and adolescents. The primary difference between the two is that psychiatrists tend to focus on medication management,  while psychologists tend to focus more on talk therapy.

When to See a Child Psychiatrist vs a Child Psychologist
A psychologist can help a child to work through difficult situations, learn coping skills to manage strong feelings like anxiety and depression, and help families to communicate and get along better. What a psychologist cannot do is prescribe medication. Most child psychiatrists see children to establish and manage the medication portion of their treatment. Usually, a child will need to  see a psychologist for weekly therapy in addition to their visits with a psychiatrist.

Your child might benefit from seeing a psychiatrist if:

  • They have been in therapy for a while and are still struggling to manage their symptoms.
  • You aren’t sure if medication is right for your child, and you’d like to talk about your options with someone knowledgeable.
  • Your child’s pediatrician, therapist, or another professional in their life has suggested that medication might be helpful.
  • You need someone to help you find the right medication and dosage for your child, and keep an eye on any side effects.

How to Find a Child Psychiatrist
The number of child and adolescent psychiatrists available in the US is relatively low, so it can sometimes be a challenge to find one located in your area. One in five children in the US live in a county without a child psychiatrist. That’s why online therapy has become so important to children and parents in need of these services. Online therapy makes child psychiatrists more available and accessible, and also gives parents the opportunity to find the right child psychiatrist for their particular needs and challenges.

Why Should a Child See a Psychiatrist?

Your child may benefit from seeing a psychiatrist if they’re struggling with anxiety, depression, anger, or disruptive life changes. All children have ups and owns in their feelings and behavior as they grow up. When the issues are relatively minor, speaking with family, friends, your general practitioner or your child’s school counselor can sometimes be enough to resolve these issues. For more serious or persistent mental health issues, there are a range of professionals who can help.

Your doctor, counselor or healthcare provider may recommend that your child see a psychiatrist if they:

  • Struggle to complete ordinary tasks or to enjoy their daily lives
  • Express suicidal ideas or have self-harmed
  • Are likely to need medication as part of their treatment
  • Require admission to a hospital
  • Have hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there) or delusions (fixed ideas that are not true)
  • Have complex needs that require a team of doctors and other professionals
  • Continue to have problems despite help from other mental health professionals

In 2022, LifeStance Health conducted a large-scale research survey that found that the majority of parents have seen their children face significant mental health challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of the parents have actively worked with child psychiatrists to help their children.

What Can Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Treat?

Child and adolescent psychiatry can help children and their families to manage a broad range of situations and conditions including:

  • Depression
  • Early-onset Psychosis
  • The Death of a Loved One
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Eating Disorders
  • Moving/Starting at a New School
  • Bullying
  • Parental Separation or Divorce
  • Self-Harming
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Trauma or Stress-Related Disorders
  • Tourette Syndrome
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Drug and Alcohol Issues

What Happens During Online Child and Adolescent Psychiatry?

An online child psychiatry session is the same as a visit to a doctor, it just happens via a video screen on a phone, tablet, or computer. Some studies show that online psychiatry is as effective as care delivered in person, and may even be superior to in-person sessions for children with issues such as attention- deficit hyperactivity disorder. Parents, teens, and family practitioners report high satisfaction with remote consultations and appreciate their convenience and privacy.

During your first session the psychiatrist will ask you about your child’s medical and family history, their current psychological or behavioral symptoms, and the factors that may be causing or making those symptoms worse. Using all of the information they have gathered, the psychiatrist will create a detailed evaluation followed by a treatment plan that might include therapy or medications.

How to Prepare for a Child Psychiatry Appointment

The first few appointments are the time for you, your child, and the doctor to get to know one another. Your child will undoubtedly have questions, concerns, and maybe even fears: What kind of doctor is this? Will I get shots? Will it hurt?

Talk to your child and ask them how they are feeling, and if they have any questions. Be sure to share what you are learning about the process as you go. It’s important to remember that trying anything new can be stressful for a child.

Help them understand that visiting a psychiatrist is often the first step towards them feeling happier and doing better in their daily lives.

Medication Management

A crucial element of a child’s care is proper medication management. Your child’s psychiatrist can recommend the right medicine, dosage, and schedule for the most effective treatment.