Child psychiatry is a branch of psychotherapy centred upon the diagnosis and treatment of children and adolescents with psychological issues and disorders. It is also a branch of medicine which acknowledges the importance of treatment for parents and families, in order to support and facilitate the effective recovery of the child.
There are a number of reasons why a child may need the assistance of a psychiatrist. The important thing to remember is that this is a specialist area and if you think your child may need help, your first step must be to consult your family doctor. If you still feel there is an issue that is not being addressed, your next step is ask to be referred to a specialist in child psychology and therapy.
There are many factors that can affect the mental wellbeing and health of a child or young person. These could include one or a combination of a number of triggers. For example, physical problems like disability, weight issues or eating disorders, previous trauma from abuse, bullying, anxiety, sexual problems and more.
Child psychiatrists will understand how to talk to children of different ages and maturity levels. They will be skilled at approaching a child on their own terms and speaking to them in an approachable, non-judgmental, and non-threatening way. It is important to remember that children are not born with psychological issues. Problems develop as a result of how they perceive or react to situations they have experienced or by how they have been treated. This is not to say all children with problems have suffered abuse. In some cases, children can have severe anxiety problems although they have come from loving supportive and caring families.
No-one should diagnose your child unless they are a fully qualified and experienced professional psychiatrist. And they should have the additional necessary qualifications which allow them to treat children. Your doctor will be able to recommend a suitable professional and refer you.
Here are some examples of why a child may need to see a therapist or psychiatrist.
Trauma – Children cope with emotional trauma in different ways depending upon their level of maturity and the support network they have around them. In some instances, it can be extremely difficult for parents to be supportive of their children if they too are experiencing trauma. For example if there is a major bereavement in the family, like a sibling or a parent, this can be a situation where all the remaining family members require help and support. Leaving a child with feelings and symptoms of grief and with no support to understand how to cope with them can cause long term damage that could affect them throughout their lives.
Divorce, relationship problems and emotional changes – Children, especially adolescents, can be extremely affected by the loss of a friend, or the ending of a meaningful relationship. A parents divorce is another example of a highly emotional and painful experience that it can be difficult for a child to understand and deal with. A therapist can help them to process their feelings. This is important, because when a child is hurt or experiences pain as a result of an emotional trauma, they often internalise the issues and blame themselves. A therapist can help them to talk about their fears and hopes, and to see that there is a way to work through their emotions to feel happy and positive again.
Neglect and Abuse – These are extremely serious issues. The child’s safety and their protection from harm will be of paramount importance. Medical professionals like doctors and therapists, and also social workers and child support workers will all be working together to support and help the child in every way necessary.
If you think your child may need some assistance, seek medical advice immediately and ask to be referred to the correct psychiatric specialists if necessary.