What Are Child Pediatric Counselors?

Adjustment issues are not limited to adults; nor are mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Child pediatric counselors see children with a range of issues. Some have experienced severe trauma as a victim of abuse or a witness to violence. Some are dealing with feelings about a separation or divorce. Others are grieving a death. Many more struggle to be accepted by peers. And some are acting out for reasons not even those closest to them understand.

Child counselors may work with all these populations or tailor a private practice toward a particular one, for example, children of divorce.


Child counselors assess children’s needs and set treatment goals. They need to take into account a child’s stage of development when planning. For example, a young child with OCD might need a behavior chart and stickers or other concrete rewards.

Child pediatric counselors may use talk-based therapies or other modalities like play therapy. They often work as part of a team that includes psychiatrists or other mental health professionals; they make outside referrals when necessary.

Becoming a Child Pediatric Counselor

In order to be a child counselor, you will need to complete a master’s degree and become state licensed. Usually your master’s degree will not be in child counseling per se; it will be in mental health counseling or in a related field like counseling psychology. There are a few counseling psychology programs in the United States that have tracks in child and adolescent counseling. Counseling psychology programs are highly competitive. If you are considering one, you will want to make sure it meets licensing requirements in your own state.

Capella University offers three online CACREP - accredited Master's programs: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy and School Counseling. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.

Explore schools that offer masters degrees in counseling or related programs

There are other things you can do to tailor your career toward work with children. One is to pursue additional training in play therapy. There are a number of universities that offer graduate certificates in play therapy either online or in a classroom setting. Some schools allow you to pursue play therapy as an option/ track in your master’s program.

Some students also choose to pursue dual licensing as professional counselors and school counselors; this affords them more experience with young people and may eventually give them the option of working with children in either clinical or school settings. If you think you want to counsel children, you don’t have to wait until graduate school to start tailoring your education.

You can opt for an undergraduate major in a field like child development. You can also seek volunteer experience at a child crisis center or other setting where there are children with serious needs. You’ll still need to complete the graduate degree, but you’ll have a greater chance of being admitted to the program of your choice.

Find undergraduate programs related to this field

Certification and Licensing

As a child counselor, you will have a state license in professional counseling or a related field. You may have additional certifications granted by third party organizations.

In the U.S., the Association for Play Therapy certifies master’s level mental health professionals in play therapy. You can only pursue the credential if you are already state licensed in a mental health field, for example, professional counseling. In order to get the extra credential, you need 150 hours of instruction in play therapy. You also need to put in 500 hours of supervised play therapy work experience. Prerequisites include coursework in areas like personality therapy and child and adult psychotherapy.

Salary and Job Outlook

Mental health counselors enjoyed a mean salary of $42,590 in 2011 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. During the 2010 – 2020 decade, jobs should grow at a rate far above the national average. Elementary and school counselors averaged $62,990 during the same time period. Job growth, however, has been projected to occur at a much slower rate.

Explore other types of counseling careers.

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