What is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist?

Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

The child and adolescent psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and the treatment of disorders related to thinking, feeling and/or behavior affecting children, adolescents, and their families. Fully trained in psychiatric treatment for adults, a child and adolescent psychiatrist receives additional extensive training in the specialization of psychiatric disorders as they apply to those who have not yet reached adulthood. He offers families the advantages of a medical education, the medical traditions of professional ethics, and medical responsibility for providing comprehensive care to people in all stages of life.


The child and adolescent psychiatrist uses the knowledge of biological, psychological, and social factors in working with patients. The first visit with a patient involves a comprehensive diagnostic examination to evaluate the current problem, during which special attention is paid to the physical, genetic, developmental, emotional, cognitive, educational, family, peer, and social components in the patient’s life. The psychiatrist shares his diagnostic formulation with the child or adolescent and the patient’s family. He designs a comprehensive personalized treatment plan and presents his recommendations to the patient and the patient’s family.

An integrated approach may involve individual, group or family psychotherapy, medication, consultation with other physicians or professionals from schools, juvenile courts, social agencies or other community organizations, or a combination of options. In addition, the child psychiatrist is prepared and expected to act as an advocate for the best interests of children and adolescents. Child and adolescent psychiatrists perform consultations in a variety of settings, such as schools, juvenile courts, and social agencies.


Child and adolescent psychiatric training requires 4 years of medical school, at least 3 years of approved residency training in medicine, neurology, and general psychiatry with adults, and 2 years of additional specialized training in psychiatric work with children, adolescents, and their families in an accredited residency in child and adolescent psychiatry.

In the general psychiatry training years, the physician achieves competence in the fundamentals of the theory and practice of psychiatry. In the child and adolescent psychiatry training, the trainee acquires a thorough knowledge of normal child and family development, psychopathology, and treatment. Special importance is given to disorders that appear in childhood, such as autism spectrum disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, mental retardation, mood disorders, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, depressive and anxiety disorders, drug dependency and delinquency (conduct disorder). The child psychiatry trainee applies and develops psychiatric skills by treating children, adolescents and their families in a variety of settings.

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

Certification and Continuing Education

Having completed the child and adolescent psychiatry residency and successfully passing the certification examination in general psychiatry given by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN), the child and adolescent psychiatrist is eligible to take the additional certification examination in the subspecialty of child and adolescent psychiatry. Although the ABPN examinations are not required for practice, they are a further assurance that the child and adolescent psychiatrist with these certifications can be expected to diagnose and treat all psychiatric conditions in patients of any age competently.

The child and adolescent psychiatrist continues to study and learn about new advances by reading scientific literature and attending conferences. New knowledge is then applied to diagnostic, therapeutic, and consultative work.

Finding a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist

Child and adolescent psychiatrists can be found through local medical and psychiatric societies, local mental health associations, local hospitals or medical centers, departments of psychiatry in medical schools, and national organizations like the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Psychiatric Association. In addition, pediatricians, family physicians, school counselors, and Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) can be helpful in identifying child and adolescent psychiatrists.


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