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A pediatric psychiatrist can also be called a child psychiatrist. All psychiatrists are medical doctors who have completed medical school. Upon this completion they specialize in psychiatry, and some, after becoming licensed psychiatrists, spend a couple more years in the study and practice of child psychiatry. They are essentially highly specialized doctors skilled at working with children who exhibit mental disorders or who have developmental conditions like retardation, significant learning disabilities, or things like Tourette syndrome.
It’s recognized in the psychiatric community that the treatment of children is different than the treatment of adults. Kids and teens are not little adults and they need specialized care tailored to them. Consideration of how to change or titrate medication dosages, how to administer therapy and how to best address mental or developmental disorders for children is important to the pediatric psychiatrist. These specialists usually also have direct involvement with parents of the patients they treat and may include parents or other caregivers in the decision making process of how to treat a specific condition.
There are a number of settings in which a pediatric psychiatrist might work. He or she could maintain an office and treat most patients on an outpatient basis. Some of these doctors work primarily with children and teens that are in inpatient hospitals, either for short periods of time or for lengthier stays. Another role a child psychiatrist can fill is working with state organizations like Child Protective Services (or its equivalents). They may examine children suspected of abuse or render decisions about the mental stability of kids who have committed crimes. In this last capacity, they may be called forensic child or pediatric psychiatrists.
In most jobs, a pediatric psychiatrist may work with a team of mental health professionals. Though these doctors are trained and capable of administering therapy, that may not always be their primary job. They may work with psychologists or other licensed counselors who do the bulk of therapy work with a child or teen, in addition to cooperating with observations made by a child’s pediatrician. Some psychiatrists do choose to offer both therapy and management of any prescribed meds, but this varies.
Psychiatry makes up a very small percentage of all licensed doctors in the US, about 5%, and there are even fewer who specialize in child psychiatry. It can be difficult in remote areas to find a person who is a licensed pediatric psychiatrist. It should be noted that any psychiatrist is qualified to treat children, but within the field, there are many who feel that a pediatric psychiatrist is better able to handle the nuances of psychiatric illness or conditions that occur in children and teens.