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Psychiatry Series: What is a Child Psychiatrist?

As a parent, you want the very best for your child. You also probably know your child better than anyone else and can tell when something isn’t quite right with them. Just like adults, children can develop mental health conditions that require treatment. And just like any other type of medical condition, the sooner you seek treatment for them, the better off they will be. 

Colorful brain inside a black silhouette of a child's head

One type of mental health professional that works with children is a child psychiatrist. They are sometimes also known as an adolescent psychiatrist. Child and adolescent psychiatrists are medical doctors that specialize in the comprehensive treatment of mental health issues in children. This means that child psychiatry incorporates biological, psychological, and social factors when developing a treatment plan. 

In order to become a child psychiatrist, they must complete four years of medical school, 3 years of residency training, and an additional 2 years of child and family psychiatry. This education focuses on normal child and family development, as well as mental health disorders that often begin and develop during childhood. 

Child psychiatrists can treat a range of mental health conditions that affect children and adolescents, including: 

  • Pervasive developmental disorder
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Learning disabilities
  • Autistic spectrum disorders
  • Asperger’s disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Childhood onset schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Eating disorders (anorexia nervosa & bulimia nervosa)
  • Mood disorders
  • Depressive and anxiety disorders
  • Conduct disorders

When you take your child to a child psychiatrist, one of the first things you can expect is to have them undergo a child psychiatric evaluation. Although they sound scary to many people, psychiatric evaluations are simply an hour long consultation where the child psychiatrist obtains information about the child and family. They will likely ask your child basic questions about themselves and the family. Some child psychiatrists even have children draw a picture of their family. 

Child psychiatrist watching a child draw a picture

A child psychiatrist will also ask you questions about the family members and family dynamics. They will also also about the family medical history and whether or not the family has a history of psychiatric conditions. All these questions will help the child psychiatrist to understand more about what is going on and if your child is affected by a particular mental health disorder. In most cases, child psychiatrists will use the behavioral and emotional symptoms in relation to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (published by the American Psychiatric Association) to diagnose the child. 

Psychiatric treatment for children will vary depending on the diagnosis, severity of symptoms, and the child’s overall health. In most cases, a combination of behavior therapy and medical management is recommended. A family therapist is often recommended to guide the child and the family through behavior therapy. This helps the child learn to manage their behavior and equips the family with strategies to encourage progress. In adolescents, a psychologist for teenagers is often recommended to give them a safe place to work through emotions and learn positive behavioral strategies. To help manage symptoms, medication may also be used. 

Child psychiatry is a specialized field that helps children learn how to manage their mental health. If you have noticed a change in your child and are worried, it is recommended to have them evaluated by a psychiatrist. Early detection can help both the child and the family to manage the condition better and can prevent things from becoming worse. 

Dr. Miller is trained in Adult, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She is also trained in Anesthesia and Pain Management. Because of her broad experience, Dr. Miller is uniquely qualified to treat psychological trauma, depression and anxiety that can occur as a result of injury or disability.  For more information, schedule a consultation at NJ Family Psychiatry & Therapy.

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