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.

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Training of child psychotherapists lasts longer than for many other professions in psychology as a result of the complexity and importance of the work.

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

Child psychotherapists work with children and young people who are affected by mental health problems such as depression, aggression, phobias, anxiety, physical/psychosomatic disorders, learning difficulties and behavioural problems. They support and coordinate their work with others involved with the child or adolescent. Through various techniques and approaches (eg encouraging and/or engaging in play, drawing, talking and writing), the child psychotherapist works to help the young person understand and verbalise their feelings – and, hopefully, to overcome or alleviate their psychological problems. 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
  • offering training to other professionals who work with children in the community
  • engaging in continuing professional development (CPD)

Typical employers of child psychotherapists

Most child psychotherapists are employed by the NHS, often in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) teams. If you work for CAMHS, you will be based at community-based clinics or in hospitals. Alternatively, you might work for:

  • Voluntary organisations
  • Primary and secondary schools
  • Social services

Opportunities are advertised on the websites of the NHS, NHS Recruitment Scotland and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

Qualifications and training required

Training of child psychotherapists lasts longer than for many other professions in psychology as a result of the complexity and importance of the work.

In addition to an honours degree or equivalent, prospective child psychotherapists must also complete a recognised postgraduate pre-clinical course. You can find these listed on the BACP website. As well as this, you will need substantial experience of working with children and adolescents, which could have been acquired through work in health, education or social care.

The next stage is clinical training, which usually lasts four years and leads to a professional doctorate qualification. As well as gaining an in-depth understanding of theory, trainees spend time putting this into practice by working intensively with a small number of patients of different ages (up to the age of 25).

Clinical training is funded by the NHS. In England there is a National Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Training Scheme, funded by Health Education England. Although there are different local arrangements for funding in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the training remains essentially the same.

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
  • Empathy
  • Sincerity
  • Discretion
  • Ability to build rapport
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Resilience and maturity
  • Capacity for study and continued learning
  • Ability to work independently or with others
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