Psychology for children and teens

What is clinical psychology?

Psychology is the study of people’s thoughts, emotions and behaviours; clinical psychology puts that knowledge to use. Psychology for children and teens applies these same fields of study to younger patients. The field includes disciplines such as neuropsychology and psychoeducation. At Morneau Shepell’s Children’s Support Solutions, a clinical psychologist can diagnose and treat cognitive, neurological and developmental challenges that are impairing a child’s life at home, at school or in the community.

At Children’s Support Solutions, providing psychology for children and teens all starts with understanding the child, and how the child fits into his or her environment. To assess the child’s situation, the psychologist meets with the parents, gathers data from standardized questionnaires, does direct testing and observes the child. The assessment zeroes in on any problem areas. Often the assessment is done by a specialized neuropsychologist. As you can imagine from the name, neuropsychologists specialize in how the brain works and, through testing, can often pinpoint specific issues underlying difficulties in learning or behaviour.

Clinical developmental psychology is a subset of the field specifically for young children with medical, neurological or developmental needs and who would benefit from early intervention strategies. At Children’s Support Solutions, psychologists are often the “first stop” for parents. Morneau Shepell is unique in providing easy access to developmental assessments that may be difficult to get in the community.

Equipped with information from the assessment, the psychologist makes recommendations for the child. Recommendations could include therapy (speech-language, behaviour, physical, occupational, music or others), adjusting the environment, advice and training for the parents, or providing input on an Individual Education Plan (IEP), which can lead to appropriate assistance from the school system. Advice on IEPs may come from professionals trained in psychoeducation. Psychoeducation focuses on the practical, “right now” advice that can help the child and family.

For younger children, clinical psychology usually involves meeting with the parents to talk about strategies they can use to increase positive behaviours and reduce challenging ones. The psychologist can also share tactics on creating a home environment tailored to the child’s needs so that they have fewer difficulties and are happier. When a child is a little older, the psychologist might work more directly with them. Sometimes, the psychologist will recommend parent-child play therapy with both the parent and child present.

Who can benefit from clinical psychology?

Child psychologists are specially trained to evaluate and diagnose cognitive, neurological and developmental disorders of children and adolescents including:

  • Anxiety
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Giftedness
  • Learning disabilities
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Other concerns including behaviour, depression, history of trauma and adjustment to stressful life events

Therapy can have a lasting positive impact on a child. For example, some children are delayed in language and emotional reciprocity (that is, they don’t speak, don’t look at their parents and seem to be in their own world).

In our psychology for children and teens programs, a psychologist can work with both the parents and behaviour consultants on an intensive approach to teach the child how to communicate. Early intervention can address these concerns during critical years when the brain is developing rapidly and is most open to change. Similarly, children with poor self- regulation challenges who are prone to meltdowns can make huge gains in their ability to regulate their emotions and behaviour. They may then be able to better participate in home and school routines.

What role can parents play?

Parents play a big role in psychological treatments. When a child is displaying a challenging behaviour, the parents are often on the front lines. It takes considerable effort to change behaviour patterns, and it is the parents’ commitment, effort and energy, working with the therapist, that makes it happen.

The therapist provides the parents with the techniques and ongoing support they need to help their child. For example, the psychologist might say, “This week we want you to focus on noticing positive behaviour and giving feedback on that; then we will see what has changed and what to do next.”

How does Morneau Shepell use psychology?

Our most common psychological assessments include:

  • Neuropsychological
  • Psychoeducational
  • Developmental
  • Diagnostic
  • Psychodynamic
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Person-centred
  • COGMED

Morneau Shepell’s Children’s Support Solutions is family-centred and interprofessional. This means that all of our psychology for children and teens programs always start with the questions, “What will work for this child?” and “What is right for the family?” If psychological therapy is deemed to be useful, the psychologist will propose a treatment plan.

However, we do not think solely in terms of psychology; we think about the mix of therapies that will help the child. In the Morneau Shepell model, therapists are not just under one roof; they plan together, train together and work together on a client file. An integrated approach is used to help the family.

How are psychologists trained and certified?

Psychologists are a regulated profession and while each province has its own rules and regulatory bodies, there is a great deal of commonality from province to province. To be qualified to practice, psychologists must have the required graduate degree (as per their province’s regulations), obtain supervised experience, and pass written and oral exams on practice and ethical issues. In Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec, psychologists are required to have a doctoral degree. There are also other designations; for example, to provide psychoeducation in Quebec or to be a Psychology Assistant in Ontario, you need a master’s degree and relevant experience.

Additional certification and/or training are necessary for practice in specific areas such as Neuropsychology, Custody/Access, Parenting Capacity Assessment, etc.

Further reading

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Just released – ‘A guide to the benefits of interprofessional care for families & children’

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Online Counselling now available (in Ontario)

Your child can participate in 1:1 therapy, live with their therapist from a computer or tablet. You will have unprecedented access to your child’s therapy and progress. It is suitable and effective for a wide range of challenges.

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