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4 min read

Children vs Adult Psychology: How Are They Different?

A child in the therapy room

Mental health issues can be experienced at any age, especially in cases of trauma and other negative environmental factors. While therapy is available for all ages across the lifespan, there are differences in how mental health is approached in early childhood and adolescence, as opposed to young adulthood. In this article, we will explore the differences between adult psychological makeup and that of children and teens, and why it matters when it comes to mental health care.

The Child Mind and The Adolescent Mind

Children and adolescents are still at developmental stages that can affect how we communicate with them. And in younger children, the developmental stage can change fairly quickly. In talk therapy for young people, a therapist must have a deep understanding of child development, and know the different developmental milestones.

Play therapy is a common therapeutic approach for clinical psychology in children. Play is a common language for children of preschool age, elementary school age, and even into middle school. They may be able to more effectively express their thoughts and emotions through toys, games, and art than through traditional talk therapy.

Developmental Psychology

Child therapy is different from therapy for emerging adulthood and beyond. This is because developmental trajectories at this time are wide and varied, and the early years require a different set of skills for communication that must be adjusted as children grow. A professional in the field of developmental psychology will have a deep understanding of the following:

  • Emotional development
  • Childhood cognitive development, as well as through the lifespan
  • Motor skill development
  • Developmental challenges and learning disabilities
  • Personality development
  • Moral reasoning
  • Self concept and self awareness

Some common theories utilized in in this psychology include Piaget's theory of cognitive development, Bowlby's theory of attachment, Erikson's theory psychosocial development, and Vygotsky's theory of sociocultural development.

Types of Child Psychology

The mental health providers who work in child psychology will often work in one of two therapeutic approaches: play therapy or expressive therapy.

In play therapy, the psychologist will work with younger children through the medium of play. Using games, imagination play, art, and other activities that look like playtime, they can observe children and gain insight into their problems. This therapy can also help children explore their emotions and process negative experiences. It can be extremely effective for those in early childhood who may be unable to express themselves directly through words.

Expressive therapy is somewhat similar to play therapy, but can be used for older children and adolescents. Expressive play uses music, dance, writing, art, and drama as a way to express and process their emotions and feelings. Expressive therapy may be used alongside talk therapy.

Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health in Young Adulthood

Adolescent psychology can be similar to that of young adults, middle people, and the elderly. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common therapeutic approach used for the entire lifespan. A therapist who uses cognitive behavioral therapy offers support and tools to help identify negative patterns of thought and behavior, and shift them in healthier directions. But with adolescents, the communication approach may be slightly different. The therapist may even use aspects of expressive therapy to help adolescents deal with mental health issues.

Middle school children and adolescents of high school age are often dealing with more a more complex web of mental health issues and challenges, such as bullying, self-esteem issues, anxiety, work and school stress, substance abuse, and fear of the future. Someone who works in adolescent psychiatry or psychology must have an understanding of the social connections and developmental trajectories of this age group.

The difference between adolescent psychiatry and adolescent psychology may come into play in certain cases. Someone who practices adolescent psychiatry can also prescribe medication when necessary. Certain mental health issues in adolescence can require adolescent psychiatry for this reason, including major depression, some anxiety disorders, and eating disorders.

The Importance of Parental Support in Child Psychology

Parental support can be an important factor in mental health care for children and adolescents. Children, especially, can benefit from their parents participating in the therapeutic process, as they can help build trust with the therapist. For some adolescents, a need for independence can mean that the parent may need to take a step back, but even in these cases, they should know that they support their journey and are ready to listen any time they are needed.

Parents or teachers can also be the ones to identify the need for mental health care in children. Delays in development are most commonly noticed, but certain mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety disorders, may show up differently in children than in adults. For example, a child may not be able to express to an adult that they are feeling anxious, but they may develop behavior problems in school. Or a child with depression may stop showing an interest in school work.

When Your Child Can Benefit From Therapy

There are a number of reasons that those in early childhood through young adulthood would benefit from mental health care. Some may have risk factors for mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety disorders. Others may experience environmental factors that may lead to distress. Here are some common reasons you may seek child or adolescent psychiatry:

  • Behavior problems in school
  • Are dealing with chronic illness or medical procedures
  • Issues of family transition such as separation, divorce, or death of a family member
  • Cases of domestic violence, abuse, or neglect
  • Early childhood developmental delays or disabilities
  • Toileting disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Aggressive or angry behavior

Any delays or unexplained behaviors seen in early childhood and beyond can be a reason for an evaluation from a mental health professional. If early challenges are neglected, symptoms can worsen, show up again, or even intensify in young adulthood or middle age.

Mental Health Support for Childhood and Adolescence in NYC

Mental health issues like depression and anxiety disorders are not just experienced by adults. Children and adolescents can experience symptoms too, and they may not be able to express themselves in a way that makes sense to the adults around them.

At Williamsburg Therapy Group, our team of doctoral-level psychotherapists understands the challenges of children, adolescents, and young adults, and offers a safe and affirming space for young people of all ages to share their challenges.

Give us a call today, and our patient coordinator will help you find the right Brooklyn therapist to work with your child on increasing processing trauma, managing stress, improving self esteem, and building strong and healthy relationships.

Book a Therapy Session in Brooklyn Today

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