Quite a number of children go through severe stressors like getting hospitalized for serious illnesses. Others may go through treatment for emotional disturbances, and yet others need to be treated for child abuse. While pediatricians and child psychologists might be there for primary child care, there is still a need for paramedical child life specialists to help the children and their families cope with severely stressful life events.
A child life specialist is a professional in the field of Psychology or Behavioral Sciences who specializes in providing treatment, support, or counseling for children who are under severe stress, offering some of the same to their families. One's task would include the following.
- Helping prepare the child emotionally for medical tests, surgeries, and other medical procedures. These could include talking with the children to help them understand what the doctor is doing to their bodies, as well as giving emotional assurance that things will turn out okay.
- Psychological and emotional support while undergoing surgical procedures.
- Play, which includes therapeutic medical play, as well as therapeutic recreational play.
- Family support includes sibling support, as well as support for grief and bereavement, including emergency room interventions and outpatient consultation with families.
- Another task of the Child Life Specialist includes educating a child's relatives and caretakers on how to behave around and how to handle a child who is under severe stress.
To become a Child Life Specialist, one is expected to first have a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology, Behavioral Sciences, or its equivalent. To round out the training needed, a Child Life Specialist has to have units in child development, family dynamics, family counseling, bereavement, and a background in cultural sociology. In case you want to work in a hospital setting, you might also be required to take some units in science courses, and have a familiarity with medical terms. These would help in dealing with a child's family, especially as some families experience aggravation in dealing with hospital employees when they have medical emergencies with their children.
A great help to your Child Life Specialist career would be to put in hours as a volunteer working part-time for institutions that serve the needs of children in terminal illnesses, or who are disabled. This is not only a stepping stone to your success in the Child Life Specialist field, but this would also expose you to the scope of work that such a profession requires.
When you're done with your four-year degree, the next step in working towards a Child Life Specialist career would be to put in 480 hours as an intern. While this is a time to work on gaining experience, this is actually also a great way to form the right connections that you would need as you start your professional career. The internship is usually unpaid, or might have low pay, but this is still an investment in the career you are aiming for.
Lastly, when you're done with your internship, it's now time to get your certification. A Child Life Specialist Certification may require you to have 4,000 hours of supervised field experience before allowing you to take their exam, however. Don't forget to enhance your education with regular online continuing education credits in psychology or a related field.
Working as a Child Life Specialist requires dedication and hard work. Take things one step at a time, and you'll be on your way to helping children, which, any way you look at it, is a worthy cause.