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What is a Child Psychiatrist?

How is a Child Psychiatrist different from a General Psychiatrist? Well, the "official" definition by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatrists is: "The child and adolescent psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and the treatment of disorders of thinking, feeling and/or behavior affecting children, adolescents, and their families. A child and adolescent psychiatrist offers families the advantages of a medical education, the medical traditions of professional ethics, and medical responsibility for providing comprehensive care."

So what does that mean? Well, the child & adolescent psychiatrist is trained to see the "big picture." That is, all of the biological, psychological, and social things that affect kids and families in daily life. Basically, this means that a child psychiatrist realizes that life is complicated, and that problems usually aren't simple or easy to solve. Let's say your child's school has suggested that ADHD may be a problem. The solution to this isn't simply a pill – it's also about helping mom and dad understand what this means, helping your child gain better study skills, and any number of other things.

How does a child psychiatrist come to understand what is going on? First, a comprehensive examination is performed. During this examination the doctor will evaluate the current problem paying particular attention to its various physical, genetic, developmental, emotional, cognitive, educational, family, peer, and social parts.

Then, together with the family, a diagnosis and diagnostic formulation are agreed upon. The child and adolescent psychiatrist then designs a treatment plan that takes into account all of these individual factors.

An integrated approach to treatment might involve individual, group or family psychotherapy; medications; perhaps consultation with other physicians or professionals from schools, juvenile courts, social agencies or other community organizations.

Also, the child psychiatrist is ready to act as an advocate for the best interests of the child or adolescent. Child and adolescent psychiatrists perform consultations in a variety of settings such as schools, juvenile courts, or social agencies.

I talk about training in general psychiatry here.

Child and adolescent psychiatry training takes two years after General Psychiatry training. In those two years the doctor gains a very thorough knowledge of normal child and family development, as well as psychopathology (mental and emotional illnesses), and treatment.

Special attention is paid to disorders that appear in childhood, such as:

  • pervasive developmental disorder
  • attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • learning disabilities
  • mental retardation
  • mood disorders
  • depressive and anxiety disorders
  • drug dependency
  • and delinquency (conduct disorder)

Much like in General Psychiatry, the doctor training to become a child psychiatrist applies and develops psychiatric skills by treating children, adolescents and their families in a wide variety of settings. Many of these are the same as in General training. But, beyond that, they include schools, juvenile detention centers, and other places specifically oriented toward children and adolescents.

An experience in consultation to other physicians, mental health professionals, schools, and community agencies is an important part of training.

Conditions treated:

  • Developmental disorders
      Autistic spectrum disorders including Asperger's disorder
      Learning disorders
  • Disorders of attention and behavior
      Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
      Oppositional defiant disorder
      Conduct disorder
  • Psychotic disorders
      Childhood onset schizophrenia
  • Mood disorders
      Depression
      Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
      Panic disorder
      Phobias
      Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Eating disorders
      Anorexia nervosa
      Bulimia nervosa
  • Gender identity disorder
      Gender identity disorder in children