Child Life is NOT…

For those who have been working toward becoming a child life specialist, you will have undoubtedly been asked the question “what is child life?” or been told “so it’s kind of like ________” after you’ve given a description.

Well I am here to lay down some clarifications for those who are unsure of what exactly it is a child life specialist does and how it differs from fields that seem to play a similar role. So, let’s begin, shall we?

Child Life is NOT…

Social Work. “Social workers help people resolve problems that affect their day-to-day lives. People see social workers when they are going through a difficult period in their personal, family, and/or work life.”
– Ontario Association of Social Workers 

Child Life is NOT…

Art Therapy. “Art therapy combines the creative process and psychotherapy, facilitating self-exploration and understanding. Using imagery, colour and shape as part of this creative therapeutic process, thoughts and feelings can be expressed that would otherwise be difficult to articulate.”
– Canadian Art Therapy Association 

Child Life is NOT…

Music Therapy. “Music therapists use various active and receptive intervention techniques according to the needs and preferences of the individuals with whom they work. These techniques include, but are not limited to the following: singing, playing instruments, rhythmic based activities, improvising, composing/songwriting, imagery based experiences, and listening to music.”
– Canadian Association for Music Therapy 

Child Life is NOT…

Psychology. “Psychologists engage in research, practice and teaching across a wise range of topics having to do with how people thing, feel and behave. … Here are some of the kinds of topics towards which psychologists focus their research and practice: mental health problems, criminal behaviour, stress, anger, and other aspects of lifestyle management, marital and family relationships problems, … [etc].”
– Canadian Psychological Association 

Child Life is NOT…

Early Childhood Education. An ECE “assesses children’s developmental needs and stages in all developmental domains, designs curriculum to address children’s identified needs, stages of development and interests, plans programs and environments for play and activities that help children make developmental progress, … [etc].”
– College of Early Childhood Educators 

Okay, so now that we know all of this, what exactly is child life??

“In both healthcare and community settings, Certified Child Life Specialists® help infants, children, youth and families cope with the stress and uncertainty of acute and chronic illness, injury, trauma, disability, loss and bereavement.They provide evidence-based, developmentally and psychologically appropriate interventions including therapeutic play, preparation for procedures, and education to reduce fear, anxiety, and pain.”
– Association for Child Life Professionals (ACLP)

Although child life and all the aforementioned fields are different from one another this is not to say that they don’t go well together. As a matter a fact, it is when these disciplines work together that goals are reached and success is made possible. Child life specialists are taught to work in interdisciplinary teams that are more often than not built up of these disciplines and require that they work together.

While the differences may not seem large to some, to those who are members of these respective fields we know and see these differences at work and they are important to distinguish between.


2 thoughts on “Child Life is NOT…

  1. I’ve been working in the field of child life for almost three years and my idea of what child life “is” is still evolving. Great topic and agree that interdisplinary work is key to being successful as a CLS. At this point in my career I’d say that some of our work often looks a lot like these other professions (to the casual observer), but what distinguishes child life from these other professions is it’s focus on play, coping, and development in the context of a stressful environment or situation as the basis for all interventions. For me it comes down to the professional lens. Side note, I’m also a registered ECE and find that to be an invaluable background in this field!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read, Elana! I appreciate the insights and totally agree with you! It’s amazing to me how closely these degrees and fields are aligned but provide such different ways of supporting patients and families within communities. I think that you’re definitely right, and the way we view things through our respective “lenses” changes everything. I can definitely see how being an ECE would provide awesome background for your work as a CLS and was definitely something I considered on my journey as well! I think having knowledge in a variety of disciplines is what makes providing services in any field that much better for the population being served! 🙂


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