Child psychotherapist: job description

Child psychotherapist: job description

Child psychotherapists use language and play to observe, assess, help and treat children and young people who are experiencing behavioural, emotional, social and psychological difficulties.
Child psychotherapists must have excellent listening and observation skills.

What does a child psychotherapist do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Child psychotherapists work with children who are affected by issues such as depression, aggression, phobias, anxiety, physical/psychosomatic disorders, learning difficulties and behavioural problems. They lead sessions with individuals, groups and/or families where verbal interaction, toys, puppets, dolls, art materials and so on are used to explore the child’s behaviour, attitudes and emotions. Their aim is to help children understand and address their inner conflicts. Typical activities include:

  • liaising with professionals such as teachers, psychiatrists, psychologists, paediatric nurses, social workers, family therapists and health visitors
  • supervising trainees
  • keeping up-to-date with developments within the profession by attending appropriate courses, conferences and meetings

Typical employers of child psychotherapists

  • The NHS, often in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) teams
  • Hospitals
  • Primary and secondary schools
  • Social services

Opportunities are advertised on the NHS jobs website and online by NHS trusts, in national newspapers and in the monthly Bulletin published by the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP), which is available to its members online.

Qualifications and training required

The ACP is the professional body for psychoanalytic child and adolescent therapists in the UK and sets out the minimum entry criteria on its website. In addition to an honours degree or equivalent, prospective child psychotherapists must also complete a course of observational psychoanalytic studies leading to a postgraduate diploma, MA or equivalent. They will need substantial experience of working with children and adolescents, which could have been gained through working in health, education or social care.

The next stage is clinical training, which covers both theory and practice and usually takes four years. It is also essential to undertake personal analysis, either in the pre-clinical training phase or as part of clinical training. The NHS offers a small number of child psychotherapy training posts, which provide varying levels of financial support for trainees.

Child psychotherapy is not normally a first career choice. Many people enter the profession later in life, having already been employed in a similar field.

Key skills for child psychotherapists

  • Listening skills
  • Observation
  • Sensitivity and empathy
  • Sincerity
  • Discretion
  • Ability to build rapport
  • Positive outlook
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Resilience and maturity
  • Capacity for study and continued learning
  • Ability to work independently or with others

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