Child Psychiatrist: Career Profile, Employment Outlook, and Educational Requirements

Explore the career requirements for child psychologists. Get the facts about education, licensure requirements and job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Child Psychology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Child Psychiatrist?

Child psychiatrists diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders in children as primary mental health physicians. They typically work with patients and their families through combinations of psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, hospitalization, and medication. Because they are licensed medical doctors, child psychiatrists are able to prescribe medication to treat neurochemical imbalances, which are sometimes the cause of mental illness.

When working with a patient, a psychiatrist helps find solutions through regular meetings that analyze behavior, explore past experiences, and seek to understand family relationships. All physicians, including child psychiatrists, may choose to work in a hospital, clinic, or private practice.

The following chart provides an overview about becoming a child psychiatrist.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
Training Required 3-year residency followed by 2-year child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship
Key Responsibilities Assess patient's need for treatment for mood, behavior, or thought disorders, abuse, substance abuse or mental illness; prepare plan of treatment; prescribe medication; work with child's family to address child's issues
Licensure or Certification All states require psychiatrists to be licensed; board certification in child and adolescent psychiatry is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 15% for all psychiatrists*
Median Salary (2015) $199,765 for pediatric psychiatrists**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **Salary.com

What Education Do I Need to Become a Child Psychiatrist?

Because child psychiatrists are physicians, you must have a medical degree to pursue this career. The first step is to earn a bachelor's degree, preferably in counseling or psychology, and then attend an accredited medical school program. After earning your 4-year medical degree, you must attend three years of practical instruction through a child and adolescent psychiatric residency program, followed by a 2-year fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry.

Your education in child psychiatry will include learning about normal child development, as well as the psychopathology of childhood mental illnesses and how to treat them. Some specific disorders you might study include:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Mood disorders
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Autism and other pervasive developmental disorders
  • Drug dependency

During your residency and fellowship, you'll also be trained in psychopharmacology, play therapy, family therapy and psychiatric assessment.

What Certification and Licensing Do I Need?

After completion of your child and adolescent psychiatric residency, you are eligible to become certified by taking the exam in general psychiatry offered by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). After passing the general exam, you can then sit for the ABPN child and adolescent psychiatry subspecialty exam to become a board certified child psychiatrist. You must also acquire a license from the state where you plan to practice.

What Are the Job Responsibilities?

A child psychiatrist is a specialist who diagnoses, assesses and treats children living with emotional, mental, behavioral and developmental disorders. In your practice, you can use treatment methods that include individual therapy, family therapy and psychotropic medications. You might also serve as an advocate for the child's interests. You could work in private practice, residential care or specialty hospitals, and perform assessments and consultations for courts, social services and schools.

What Is the Career Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the demand for all psychiatrists, including child psychiatrists, will increase by 15% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). Additionally, the website for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry indicates there is a severe shortage of child psychiatrists; only about 20% of mentally ill children receive treatment (www.aacap.org).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are interested in pursuing an advanced medical career but aren't sure if child psychiatry is the one, you could also consider becoming a chiropractor, an optometrist, or even a veterinarian. All three of these require completion of a doctoral or professional degree, and all involve working with patients. Chiropractors focus on treating musculoskeletal problems via spinal adjustments and manipulations. Optometrists examine eyes and diagnose and treat visual problems or diseases. Veterinarians, of course, work with animal patients, and their job can involve diagnosing and treating sick or injured animals, or working to improve public health.

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