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Clinical Child Psychologist Vs. Pediatric Psychologist

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What Is a Pediatric Psychologist?

A pediatric psychologist applies the principles and practices of the science of psychology to children, adolescents and their families. There are a number of sub-disciplines within the field dealing with psychosocial, emotional, developmental and behavioral issues and disorders. Pediatric psychologists may work with other members of a health care team to diagnose and treat, prevent injury and illness, and to also promote wellness. Pediatric psychologists may work in academic settings, conducting research or training and mentoring psychologists and other healthcare personnel. They may serve as public policy advocates on behalf of children, adolescents and families.

The clinical child psychologist and the pediatric psychologist are essentially the same. Depending on the employer and the scope of practice, one job title may be used over the other. Pediatric psychologist is often the descriptor used for the child psychologist who works in a hospital with critically ill pediatric patients. These are the kids who are battling cancer or other life-threatening illnesses and need help, as do their families, coping with the stressors of the illness. Pediatric psychologists may meet with children individually or in group sessions.

Pediatric psychologists also find opportunities working for the government, including the Department of Family Services. In cases of reported abuse, pediatric psychologists work with children to determine what has happened. They may work with parents to teach them how to handle a child's behavior and develop a better parent-child relationship. They work with other professionals if intervention is warranted.

Some pediatric psychologists work with the justice system, in rehabilitation centers, in mental health treatment centers and in research facilities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job growth for all psychologists, including pediatric psychologists, will be about 14 percent through 2026, a rate considered faster than average when compared to all other jobs. Job opportunities are expected to be best for individuals with a doctorate in an applied specialty.

What Is the Difference Between a Counselor and a Therapist?

The terms "counselor" and "therapist" are often used interchangeably. In some cases, an individual may hold both of these titles. Counselors and therapists come to their profession through a variety of disciplines. The level of training and requirements for certification or licensure depend on state laws, which can vary, as well as the employer and job qualifications. "Counselor" is a broad term that can refer to many different jobs in the social services field. In many states, individuals can call themselves counselors without having any formal credentials at all. The same can be true of therapists. When seeking a counselor or therapist, check the credentials of the person you want to work with. Lack of formal credentials does not necessarily mean that a person cannot help you, but you want to check references and make certain you know what to expect. Insurance companies and Medicare/Medicaid have guidelines on which types of practitioners they'll reimburse, so verify that information with the appropriate agency even before scheduling an appointment.

Here are some distinguishing differences between counselors and therapists:

A counselor:

  • Can be a licensed clinician with an advanced degree.
  • May have little or no formal education to hold a position as job counselor or life coach.
  • Works with a client or patient to determine the best way for counseling sessions to result in the desired outcomes.
  • Does not usually require an advanced degree or license to practice (although school counselors must be state certified and typically need a master's degree).
  • Lacks the in-depth understanding  provided by the clinical research required in therapy and psychology.
  • Generally sees an individual over a short-term to target a specific symptom or problem.

A therapist:

  • Needs licensure to practice in some states; in other states, the term "therapist" is not legally protected and can be used by life coaches and other individuals who may not have the same level of expertise and training.  

  • Can be a psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, licensed mental health worker, counselor or marriage and family therapist.

  • Can enter the field through a number of different routes, including Master in Psychology, Master in Marriage and Family Therapy, Master of Social Work, or a doctorate in these or in a related field.

  • Can use psychotherapy to assist clients in gaining insight into chronic problems. Therapists typically help clients with thought processes and ways of dealing with the world rather, than helping with specific problems.

Should I See a Therapist or a Psychologist?

Whether you should see a therapist or psychologist depends upon the type of help you seek. Is it a specific problem or issue you'd like to work through? Do you have long-standing issues such as depression or anxiety? Do you want to work with a professional for a relatively short period of time, or are you willing to commit to a longer course of treatment? Answering these questions may help you decide.

A therapist often helps patients gain insight into the problems and challenges they face, and guides the patient in finding solutions. A psychologist, in almost all cases, must be state-licensed to practice psychological therapy, which is often indicated in the treatment of diagnosable mental health issues. These can include depression, bi-polar disorder, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and others. Treatment of these issues sometimes involves medication, in which case the psychologist must work with a physician, physician's assistant or nurse practitioner who is licensed to prescribe. The psychologist can make recommendations to members of a patient's healthcare team but cannot prescribe any medication.

Therapists and psychologists can sometimes provide the same services. In other cases, they specialize in working with clients who have specific issues or conditions. If you're unsure whether to see a therapist or psychologist, discuss your needs with your primary care physician. Many communities have mental health and social services outreach, so you can also talk with personnel at these agencies to get more information. If you're considering therapists or psychologists for your child or young family member, school psychologists and guidance counselors can refer you to appropriate professionals.

Do Clinical Psychologists Work With Children?

Clinical psychologists do indeed work with children. With special training, they apply their knowledge of psychological science to the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders in infants, toddlers, children and adolescents. The patients of a clinical child psychologist are not just short adults. They have unique psychological needs that include socio-emotional adjustment, behavioral adaptation and cognitive development.

Mental health issues can biological, psychological and social roots. Some of the problems clinical child psychologists work with include emotional and developmental problems, mental disorders, cognitive defects, trauma and loss, social problems and the stress related to developmental change. Issues can be relatively minor, such as shyness or mild anxiety. Psychologists can help children deal with stresses such as divorce or school transitions. Psychologists also deal issues that significantly impact a child's ability to function in the home, at school or in social settings. These can include learning disabilities, mental illness and emotional disturbances. Psychologists employ a number of skilled procedures, including assessment, intervention, development of prevention programs and consultation with other professionals who work with children.

Becoming a clinical psychologist requires a minimum of a master's degree, though many who practice in the profession have earned a doctorate. There are a number of universities across the U.S. that offer master's and doctoral programs in clinical child psychology. There are in-residence, online and hybrid programs that combine actual and virtual classrooms. The total cost of a graduate program can be under $40,000 or exceed $100,000, depending on whether you attend a public or private institution. Before applying to any program, do your research to ensure the program is accredited and that it will provide the training you need for the career you want to pursue. When calculating college costs, be sure to figure in books, transportation and living expenses. These can be considerable, especially if you're going to school full-time and you're unemployed, or only work part-time.

A master's degree typically requires two years of full time study beyond the bachelor's degree. Earning a doctorate requires an additional three to five years, on average. Both levels of the degree require supervised clinical practice to gain knowledge and experience in the field before obtaining licensure. Candidates for a doctorate can pursue one of two paths. The Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (Ph.D) is primarily for those who want to do research or pursue a career in academia. The Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) is more clinical in nature, with more requirements for practical work in the field. Although both doctorates prepare individuals to be clinical psychologists, the Psy.D. is considered stronger preparation for the work involved because of the direct experience it provides.

Clinical child psychologists work in hospitals, schools, private institutions and private practice. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for clinical, counseling and school psychologists in 2017 was $75,090. Median salary means that half in the profession earn more, while half earn less. The median salary for all psychologists was $97,740 in 2017. Geographic location, employer, credentials and other factors contribute to variances in salary.

Are Therapists and Psychologists the Same Thing?

Therapists and psychologists sometimes provide the same services. They are not always interchangeable, however. Some states are very specific in the laws that govern the use of the titles "therapist" and "psychologist." Education, training and licensing for these occupations may differ.

If you believe that you should see a therapist or a psychologist, discuss your needs with your primary care physician. Many communities have mental health and social services outreach, so you can also speak with personnel at these agencies to obtain more information. If you're considering therapists or psychologists for your child or young family member, school psychologists and guidance counselors can refer you to appropriate professionals.

Recognizing the Importance of Mental Health

The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) is an organization dedicated to removing the stigma from mental illness. Many sufferers are blamed for their conditions, accused of making their own problems and advised to take control. As a result, people who have mental health issues or problems, or who parent children with problems, may feel ashamed. These feelings of shame may prevent them from seeking the help that they or their children need. Failure to seek help can only compound the problem. Counselors, therapists and psychologists can help you meet the challenges, whether you are going through or your child is going through a rough patch, or if there's a chronic problem that needs to be addressed.


Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.

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