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Mental Health Care Providers for Kids: Who's Who


General psychiatrists are physicians (MDs or DOs) who have gone to medical school for 4 years and then have had 4 years of training in general psychiatry. Child psychiatrists specialize in the mental health of children and have had 2 additional years of special training after the 4 ears of general psychiatry. They have also been trained in neurology and child development.

If there is no child psychiatrist available, your pediatrician may know of a general psychiatrist with a special interest in working with children. Most child psychiatrists have had experience with psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or can make an educated referral for the child. Psychiatrists are able to prescribe medications that may be helpful for particular kinds of disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.


Psychologists may have either a master's degree (MS) or a doctoral degree (PhD, EdD, PsyD) in psychology or education. They have been trained in human development and behavior, and in the treatment of learning, behavioral and emotional difficulties. Part of their training included supervised work providing therapy for children or adults. Psychologists have special skills in evaluating and treating emotional problems and learning disorders. Some have had special training in family or marital counseling.

Behavioral and developmental pediatricians

They are pediatricians (medical doctors) who have had four years of medical school, three years of pediatric residency training, and additional fellowship training after residency specifically in child development and the emotional and educational problems of children. They treat children with behavioral and emotional problems and a wide range of developmental difficulties, from attention problems to intellectual disabilities. Pediatricians can also prescribe medications for a variety of disorders.

Mental health counselors

Several types of practitioners fall into this category. Licensed clinical social workers with master's degrees in social work (MSW) are among the most common; they have had four years of college and two years of postgraduate training in counseling children and families. School counselors are educators who work directly with children in school settings, providing guidance and counseling and making referrals when necessary. They have had 4 years of college and additional training in counseling children with behavioral problems.

Community mental health resources

Many community agencies provide mental health services or can make appropriate referrals. They often are associated with county health departments, religious organizations or nonprofit counseling agencies. Colleges and medical centers also may offer a variety of mental health services available to the public.

Last Updated
Adapted from Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12, 3rd edition (Copyright © 2018 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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