Psychological Services for Children and Youth: A Survey of Canadian Practitioners

By Hunsley, John; Lee, Catherine M. et al. | Canadian Psychology, May 2014 | Go to article overview

Psychological Services for Children and Youth: A Survey of Canadian Practitioners


Hunsley, John, Lee, Catherine M., Ronson, Ashley, Cohen, Karen R., Canadian Psychology


Recent years have witnessed dramatic change in the understanding of both internalizing (e.g., Burstein et al., 2012) and externalizing (e.g., Dirks, De Los Reyes, Briggs-Gowan, Cella, & Wakschlag, 2012) problems in children and youth. Mental health problems in childhood are far from inconsequential, as they have significant effects on the young person's academic and social development (Rapee, Bögels, van der Sluis, Craske, & Ollendick, 2012). They interfere with the attainment of developmental milestones and can exact a heavy toll on all those with whom the child interacts, including peers, siblings, parents, teachers, daycare staff, and extended family. Untreated, a child's emotional and behavioural problems are associated with limited opportunities for a young person to realise his or her potential, and increased involvement in risky behaviours that render the young person vulnerable to a host of undesirable outcomes, including school dropout, delinquency, unsafe sexual practices, and irresponsible consumption of alcohol (Rapee et al., 2012).

Large scale epidemiological studies have demonstrated that many of the mental disorders that trouble adults have their origins in childhood (Merikangas et al., 2010). Using data from the United States National Comorbidity Study-Adolescent Supplement, Meri- kangas et al. (2010) reported that most anxiety disorders begin in early childhood, with the prevalence leveling off after puberty; mood and behaviour disorders, in contrast have a relatively low prevalence until early adolescence, after which they steadily in- crease. High rates of child psychopathology are not simply a North American phenomenon, as the World Health Organization esti- mates that globally one in five children suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder (World Health Organization, 2003).

Psychologists have been at the forefront of the development, evaluation, and dissemination of a range of psychological services to address these problems (Schmidt, 2012; Weisz & Kazdin, 2010). In addition to strengthening the armamentarium of inter- ventions to treat diagnosed disorders (e.g., Silverman & Hinshaw, 2008), psychologists have been vocal advocates of the need to develop new models of intervention that can increase the reach of our services (e.g., Kazdin, 2008) and to implement programs to reduce risk factors and promote protective factors in order to prevent the development of mental disorders in young people (Sanders, 2010).

As young people do not have full control over the contingencies in their lives, it is inevitable that psychological services must take into account the adults who play an important role in children's lives including, at a minimum, their parents, teachers, and other health care providers (Perfect & Morris, 2011). Complex patterns of help-seeking across different types of agencies require that service providers coordinate their services (Reid et al., 2011). It is clear, then, that in addition to the traditional roles of assessment and intervention, psychologists have a key role to play in consult- ing within interprofessional teams when working with children and youth (Lee, Schneider, Davidson, Robertston, & Bellefontaine, 2012; Perfect & Morris, 2011; Schmidt, 2012).

Despite the key roles played by psychologists with respect to children, we know relatively little about the professional activities of Canadian psychologists and psychological associates who work with children and youth. Indeed, to our knowledge, no recent survey in Canada or elsewhere has specifically examined the psychological practice patterns of those working with children and youth. Over the past decade, there have been several surveys of professional psychology and professional psychology training pro- grams in Canada. These include examinations of psychological services in health care facilities (Humbke et al., 2004) and training in specialty applied areas (Helmus, Babchishin, Camilleri, & Olver, 2011; Konnert, Dobson, & Watt, 2009). …

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