Child Therapist Careers

What Does a Child Therapist Do?

Child therapists see children with emotional disturbances from a variety of causes. Some emotional and cognitive problems can stem from physical illness or disability, developmental delays, mental illness, intellectual deficits, trauma, loss, stress, and social difficulties. Therapists assess problems of patients from early childhood through adolescence, design interventions to help them, carry out and assess those interventions, report their findings, and coordinate their work with the rest of the health care team.

The duties of child therapists also include assessing cognitive, developmental, emotional, and social status of each child they see. Once an assessment is made the therapist discusses problem areas with the parents and gets an idea of family dynamics as they relate to the child. Then the therapist composes a care plan for dealing with the child’s problems. He or she might discuss the case with physicians, nurse practitioners, teachers, and other professionals concerned with helping the child. Once a plan for intervention is in effect, the therapist continues to communicate with the child and family, keeping records of the child’s progress. At long last the child therapist is able to discharge the patient when he or she achieves a satisfactory functional level.

Where Does a Child Therapist Work?

Child therapists can work for school systems, pediatric hospitals, pediatricians, juvenile detention centers, camps for handicapped children, and probation offices. Therapists wanting more independence can work in a solo or group private practice.

Why Do We Need Child Therapists?

Adults aren’t the only ones who can benefit from therapy. Unfortunately, the mental health of children is often overlooked and ignored. Many people think children are always happy, since childhood is regarded as a time of playfulness, bliss, and no responsibility. However, children can also deal with stress and psychological issues, just like adults. Children have specific needs and issues that may require therapy – and this type of therapy is markedly different from traditional adult therapy.

The vastly different approach that is necessary for working with a child in therapy, when compared to working with an adult, begs for the need for an entire subset of child therapy. Children need to be made comfortable in order to open up and share. They often require a playful environment, one that doesn’t even feel like therapy. Children look at the world in a completely different way than adults. They also have a different level of understanding of the world around them. Because of this, the approach to therapy for children is much different.

If a child is suffering from some sort of mental health issue or behavioral problem, therapy can help prevent any issues from turning into more long-term issues into adulthood. Childhood is, in essence, supposed to be a happy time, full of learning, growing, exploring, and laughing. All children deserve that happiness, leading to healthier and happier adulthood.

Related: How to Become a Youth Therapist

What are the Requirements to Become a Child Therapist?

Education

Child therapists are required to have at least a master’s degree in counseling or social work or a doctoral degree in psychology.

A Bachelor’s degree is the first requirement for a child counselor, and most places of employment, as well as state boards, require a Master’s or Doctoral level education. A typical Bachelor or Arts or Bachelor of Science would include basic education, electives, basic psychology, child psychology, developmental psychology, statistics, and a choice of upper division courses specifically related to child therapy. Some specialized upper division courses might include: early development, adolescent development, disabilities and their emotional impact, development and interpersonal relations, behavioral and emotional childhood problems, perceptual development, cognitive development,play therapy, art therapy, or language development. Some programs allow field studies or research.

Not all universities offer undergraduate programs in childhood therapy, but most offer courses in psychology and counseling. A Bachelor’s degree in a related subject can be stepping stone toward a graduate degree in child therapy. Students should check catalogs, discuss their goals with faculty and school counselors, and come up with a plan for their education in advance of applying to a university.

Related: How to Become a Child Counselor

Admission to a Master of Science program requires completion of the Bachelor’s degree. Some Master’s programs are composed of entirely coursework, while others require original research and a thesis. Some graduate level courses students might encounter include: hospitalized infant and toddler development, grief and loss, play therapy, crisis intervention, child abuse, family theory, social ecology, and child life, to name a few. Internships allow students to practice child therapy under supervision.

Doctoral programs require graduate students to design and carry out original research at the level published in the scientific journals. Students arrange with members of faculty to be their advisors and help them submit research proposals. When proposals are granted, students carry out their proposed studies under the supervision of their advisors and graduate committees. At the completion of their research, students write a dissertation detailing their work and conclusions they have drawn from it. The last step is to defend their studies before their graduate committees. Once a dissertation is approved, the student officially has his or her PhD.

Licensure

States and territories maintain standards of education and experience that child therapists must live up to in order to receive permission to practice. A license in view of consumers lets them know that their therapist has the necessary qualifications to help them and their families.

State boards of health care and counseling decide upon their own rules, so the necessary qualifications vary from state to state. Students should check with the state government in which they plan to practice to learn which hoops to jump through.

Few if any states license child therapists as a separate specialty but license counselors and psychologists with a broader description. Kansas, for instance, licenses Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors (LCPCs). Evidence of the required coursework and supervised experience are required, along with a satisfactory score on a test administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors. California, too, licenses Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors. Florida licenses psychologists and school psychologists. In Florida, candidates must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology and the Florida Laws and Rules examination. This information is only offered as a general guideline. Graduates need to look up the specific licensure requirements in their own states and check back periodically for new developments.

What are the Qualities of a Good Child Therapist?

Listed below are the qualities of a good child therapist:

  • Have a “Soft Spot” for Children: A good child therapist must love, or deeply like children. In fact, they must enjoy being around children, and watching them grow, develop, and mature.
  • Understand Child Development: A credible child therapist should have a sound understanding of the developmental stages of children. He or she must also be highly familiar with common age-related issues and concerns. Furthermore, it is important that a good child therapist be knowledgeable of child-appropriate treatment approaches.
  • Be Willing to Consult with Other Professionals: A good child therapist must also be willing to consult with other professionals (i.e. teachers, social workers, therapists, childcare workers, psychologists, physicians, counselors, etc.). If a child is “acting out” at home, he or she is probably doing the same thing at school, daycare, etc.; therefore, it is important to work with professionals in those areas. It is also imperative to work with physicians, especially if the child is taking psychotropic medications. A willingness to collaborate with medical and educational professionals can promote the child’s success, both at home and away from home.
  • Encourage Parental Participation: Lastly, a good child therapist must encourage parental participation. In other words, he or she must actively encourage parents, to become involved in what is happening with their child. A child therapist should also maintain communication with parents on a regular basis. This communication should consist of: progress reports, parenting style suggestions, and ways to improve the child’s behaviors at home, and at school.

What Skills are Required for a Child Therapist?

Child therapists must have excellent interpersonal skills for dealing with not only the patient but adults who affect the child. He or she must be able to communicate a positive, caring attitude, and actively listen to the patient, his family, and others concerned with the case. Therapists must have good writing skills for documenting cases. Child therapists in private practice need business and accounting skills.

What is the Job Outlook for Child Therapists?

The future looks bright for aspiring professionals in all health care fields. The Affordable Health Care Act puts help within reach of families regardless of socioeconomic status. The current high level of divorce puts stresses on families and children. By the year 2022 it is estimated that 11 percent more clinical, counseling, and school psychologists will be needed than were needed in 2012 (BLS).

What is the Salary for a Child Therapist?

According to Payscale, the average hourly salary throughout the country for child psychologist is $49 and the average annual income is $69,706. In May 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for all psychologists (excluding clinical, counseling, school, and industrial-organizational psychologists) was $92,110. The average salary for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists was $68,900 in May 2014. The average salary for mental health counselors providing individual and family services was $41,820 in May 2014.

Salaries vary from state to state and among various employment settings. By the time today’s students are ready to go to work, the increased need could raise salaries.

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