Child psychiatrists are medical doctors who treat children and adolescents with mental health issues. A child psychiatrist begins his/her career as a general or family physician, but these medical professional go to school for a longer amount of time in order to specialize in pediatric mental health. A child psychiatrist attends school for approximately 10 years following high school. It is important not to confuse a psychologist with a psychiatrist. Although a child psychologist is considered a “doctor,” he/she holds a doctor of philosophy (PhD), while a child psychiatrist holds a medical degree (MD).
In addition, a child psychologist attends graduate school, while a child psychiatrist attends medical school. Furthermore, a child psychologist focuses on therapeutic services and therefore cannot prescribe medications unlike a child psychiatrist, who can write any prescription a pediatrician can. There is also a difference between your child’s pediatrician and a child psychiatrist. A pediatrician’s job is not only to attend to your child’s bumps, cuts, scrapes, colds, flu, and simple illnesses, but also to know when it is time to refer your child to a specialist.
Sometimes children, like adults, benefit from mental health services (therapy and/or medications). You may notice changes in your child that prompt you to take him/her to his pediatrician for care. Once you arrive at the appointment, your pediatrician may assess your child’s behaviors, emotions, physical abilities and psychological status to try to determine what is causing the changes.
Your child’s pediatrician may also pay close attention to medical, genetic, educational, social, developmental and/or family factors that could be causing a change in your child’s demeanor, attitudes, moods and/or behaviors. If your child’s pediatrician feels that your child needs further examination, he/she will refer your child to a psychiatrist for additional examinations and assessments.
Your child’s pediatrician may also refer your child to a child psychiatrist, if he/she has already been diagnosed with a mental illness and/or psychological disorder like developmental disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, behavior disorders, adjustment disorders and/or attention deficit disorders. It is the responsibility of your pediatrician to refer your child to a child psychiatrist if he/she suspects that your child needs more advanced services and he/she does not feel properly equipped to treat the condition.
Once your pediatrician refers your child to a child psychiatrist, he/she will continue to work with you and your child’s psychiatrist to provide the best care for your child. In addition, in some cases, depending on the diagnosis, your child’s pediatrician may be able to manage his/her condition, with consultations with his/her psychiatrist, but this typically only occurs after your child has been seeing a psychiatrist for a long time and is considered stable.
Other reasons why your child’s pediatrician may recommend that your child see a child psychiatrist include:
· When your child’s pediatrician believes that your child may need psychotropic medications (anti-depression medications, anti-anxiety medications, mood stabilizers, etc.).
· If your child frequently sees his/her pediatrician, but does not appear to be getting better and/or worsens.
· If your child has tried two or more psychotropic medications and they do not appear to be working.
· If you disagree with the pediatrician’s treatment plan.
It is important to note that a referral from a pediatrician to see a child psychiatrist does not automatically mean something is wrong with your child; rather this is a way for your child’s pediatrician to be pro-active and put your child’s health first. In other words, it is best to be safe than sorry. It is also does not mean that your child’s pediatrician is not a good doctor for your child’s medical needs.
A child psychiatrist sees children with emotional issues, psychological disorders, adjustment disorders, mental illnesses, all day long, every day, while your child’s pediatrician does not. The main function of your child’s pediatrician is to diagnose and treat medical conditions and refer patients to specialist when need be. A child psychiatrist is a specialist who treats mental and psychological conditions.
The main goal of your child’s pediatrician is to assist you and your child by referring him/her to the right person to help with his/her condition and to work with your child’s psychiatrist when evaluating and treating your child’s mental, emotional and/or behavioral issues. Once your child begins to see a child psychiatrist, your pediatrician will work with him/her to help effectively manage your child’s condition.
It is important to note that the best thing that your child’s pediatrician can do is refer your child to a child psychiatrist if he/she feels that your child could benefit from an expert in the field. A good pediatrician always puts the needs and well-being of his/her young patients over his/her own ego. Ultimately your child’s pediatrician referred your child to a child psychiatrist because he/she wants to make sure your child gets the best care.