Patient with a therapist/psychologist in Pasadena, CA

Does my child need a therapist, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist?

June 21, 2024
by Dr. Francisco Navarro

Understanding the variety of mental health professionals and their roles is crucial when seeking support for your child’s journey to emotional strength and well-being. This guide aims to clarify the roles of therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, helping you make an informed decision for your child’s specific needs.


Child Therapist, Psychologist, or Psychiatrist: What’s the Difference?



A therapist is a professional trained to help with emotional and behavioral challenges. Through talk therapy, they provide a supportive space for your child to discuss thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. 

Therapists excel in guiding children to understand their emotions, develop strategies to manage them and address issues such as stress, anxiety, family dynamics, and friendships.

Child therapists come with various qualifications, including licensed professional counselors (LPCs), licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), and marriage and family therapists (MFTs). They focus on therapy methods like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), play therapy for younger children, and other strategies to foster emotional resilience. 

They tailor their approach to empower your child to navigate challenges effectively without prescribing medication.



Psychologists go to graduate school to get a PhD or PsyD after they complete undergraduate education, tend to use talk and behavioral therapy primarily to treat patients, and cannot prescribe medication. 

Psychologists delve deeper into mental health, and some also have the capability to conduct psychological testing and evaluations for a thorough understanding of a child’s emotional and behavioral state. Their expertise in diagnosing and treating complex emotional issues distinguishes them from therapists.

Holding doctoral degrees (PhD or PsyD), child psychologists are versed in various therapeutic techniques, addressing a spectrum of concerns from anxiety and depression to learning difficulties and significant emotional challenges. 

They employ methods such as psychoanalysis and CBT to uncover the roots of behaviors and thoughts, providing strategies for positive change and growth.



Psychiatrists go to medical school as part of their medical training and are true medical doctors who can prescribe medication.

As medical doctors specializing in mental health, psychiatrists have the unique ability to diagnose serious emotional challenges and prescribe medication. They are suited for cases where a child may benefit from a blend of medication and therapy for their well-being.

Their medical training equips psychiatrists with a comprehensive understanding of the intricate links between mental and physical health, including how certain medical conditions or medications can affect emotional states. 

The majority of psychiatry education and training focuses on adults. Only a select few then apply and complete 2 additional years of child/adolescent training. Child, Adolescent and Adult psychiatrists are double board-certified and have special expertise to offer treatment plans, that may include medication management, psychotherapy, and referrals to other specialists for additional support with conditions like ADHD, mood fluctuations, or more severe issues.

psychiatrist vs psychologist inforgraphic

Does my child need a therapist, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist?

Selecting the appropriate professional hinges on a deep understanding of your child’s needs. A therapist could be the ideal choice for addressing situational problems or mild to moderate emotional challenges. 

A child psychologist might be preferable for detailed assessments and therapy for complex issues. 

A psychiatrist could be necessary if your child’s situation might benefit from medication as part of their treatment.


Schedule a Consultation with Child Mental Health Professionals in LA

Seeking help for your child’s mental and emotional health is a proactive and positive step. To start this journey, consider scheduling a consultation with a mental health professional at ResWell. Our team is dedicated to providing the support and guidance your child needs to thrive.