How to Become a Youth Psychiatrist

What is a Youth Psychiatrist?

A youth psychiatrist specializes in diagnosing and treating mental and emotional problems in adolescent patients, normally from the age of puberty to adulthood. Teenagers have their own characteristic set of problems, and this period of life is vital in setting the stage for the transition to adulthood.

There are six main groups of psychiatric disorders that adolescent youths are prone to:

  • Developmental disorders like autism, learning disorders, language disorders and motor disorders
  • Behavioral disorders like hyperactivity, conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder
  • Psychotic disorders like childhood onset schizophrenia
  • Mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders like panic disorder, phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

Other problems that teenagers can fall victim to are substance abuse, parental abuse, gang membership and various other emotional issues. Youth psychiatrists are better equipped to deal with these problems than psychiatrists with a different specialty are.

Psychiatrists can run any of several standardized tests to diagnose a youth; but such tests should ideally only be used a starting point in the diagnosis, because each youth has individualized problems and situations. The standardized tests don’t consider sociological factors like family, friends and school environment.

There are seven main types of psychiatric treatment for youths:

  • Behavior therapy trains the youth to behave in the proper way to eliminate the problem, and can be used for substance abuse, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy is similar to the above, but is based more upon changing the patients’ patterns of thought than upon changing their actions.
  • Problem-solving therapy is often used in groups like Alcohol Anonymous for achieving a set goal like quitting substance abuse, and it consists of education and dialogue toward achieving that goal.
  • Psychodynamic therapy is a group therapy where the control is given to the participants, who set the rules and engage each other in dynamic and sometimes confrontational means in order to learn how to work out their interpersonal problems.
  • Parent training is where a psychiatrist teaches parents to deal with the particular problems their youth has.
  • Family therapy is an interactive training program for the entire family.
  • Medication is the administration of pharmaceutical drugs.

Psychiatrists, unlike psychologists, are licensed physicians who can prescribe and administer pharmaceuticals, admit patients to hospitals, and order lab tests or diagnostic studies.

Youth psychiatrists often work as part of a team with other professionals who serve the same patient, like psychologists, social workers, school administrators, guidance counselors, nurses, physical therapists, correction officers, law enforcement officers and physicians. Psychiatrists also sometimes work with officials from governmental agencies or the court system.

What is the Work Environment for a Youth Psychiatrist?

Youth psychiatrists can work in many settings, including juvenile rehabilitation centers, juvenile courts, drug centers, psychiatric hospitals, outpatient care facilities, clinics or schools. They can also go into a private practice and set up their own office.

What are the Requirements to Become a Youth Psychiatrist?


Psychiatrists are required to go through medical school. Candidates must get good grades in high school and college to have a chance at entering med school. College coursework is largely composed of biology, physiology, physics, chemistry, psychology and other sciences.

The normal course of education is four years of premedical undergraduate schooling and then four years of medical school, but some schools offer a program that combines undergraduate school and medical school into a six-year program.


Once medical school is over, a youth psychiatrist must undergo three years of residency training in general medicine and psychiatry for adult patients and, if that is successful, an additional two years working with youths.

Psychiatrists must continue their education and training as long as they are in practice, staying abreast of current developments in psychiatry and general medicine.

Licensing and/or Certification

All psychiatrists need a medical license as a physician and must get certified as a psychiatrist through either the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology or the American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry. They must also become certified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in order to be able to administer pharmaceuticals.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Youth psychiatrists must be sympathetic listeners who like working with teenagers from diverse backgrounds and races, but psychiatrists must also learn to maintain a degree of detachment and objectivity to become an effective mentor. They have to look at each patient with a fresh set of eyes, being careful not to be influenced by stereotypes. They must also be clear and consistent in communicating with youths and their families.

What are the Opportunities for Advancement?

There is a severe worldwide shortage of youth psychiatrists, especially in rural or poor areas, so getting enough work shouldn’t be a problem, even for those who want to start a private practice. But there aren’t many chances for advancement, because psychiatry is near the top of the ladder. Jobs in administration might also be available.

Further Readings

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