Child psychiatry diagnoses and treats behavioral disorders that occur from infancy through adolescence. Many disturbances often receive psychiatric intervention: compulsive and repetitive motor movements, or hyperactivity; regressive social behavior such as bed-wetting; manifestations of obsessive fears and anxieties; withdrawal or other bizarre behavior, as seen in the autistic or schizophrenic child; learning disabilities; and aggressive and hostile behavior.
Aberrant behavior in children may be caused by neurological impairment, mental retardation, environmental inadequacies, traumatic emotional or physical experiences. or a combination of such factors. Diagnostic procedures in child psychiatry therefore require a variety of special testing and assessment techniques, as well as evaluatory input from other disciplines such as neurology and pediatrics. Because the child is still growing, the psychiatrist must be well aware of the stages of child development, in order to assess what is in fact problem behavior and what is not. Moreover, because communicating with distrubed children is often difficult, special procedures are requiredÑplay therapy, projective techniques such as drawing and painting, and other nonverbal activities. Much of a child's distruptive behavior may be derived from or reinforced by the familial setting, so treatment frequently includes parent counseling.
Currently there are two main approaches to child psychiatry. One is the traditional psychoanalytic approach based on Freudian theory, stressing the behavioral role of unconscious mechanisms that develop as a result of unresolved emotional conflicts with parents. The other is the neurochemical approach, stressing neurological and sensory factors and relying heavily on the extensive current research in biochemical influences on behavior.