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Child psychologist how to become one

Child psychology covers the healthy psychological development of children. Child psychologists help children and their families by diagnosing and treating mental health conditions or providing expert counseling.

If you enjoy working with children, are a good collaborator, and want to apply psychology to help children grow and learn, you may want to consider this career. Learn how to become a child psychologist, including the required education, licensing requirements, and salaries.

What is Child Psychology?

Child psychologists work in schools, hospitals and health systems, private practice, and government and nonprofit organizations. They support healthy child development by diagnosing mental, emotional, behavioral, learning, or related mental health conditions and prescribing therapeutic approaches.

As you become a child psychologist, you will explore approaches such as play therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, child trauma therapy, and talk therapy. Child psychologists often specialize in a particular type of condition or approach.

Child psychologists often work with other healthcare and child development professionals. For example, a child psychologist who specializes in learning conditions might work with school administration, the school psychologist, teachers, and parents to diagnose a condition such as ADHD and to develop an individualized education program (IEP).

A trauma psychologist might work with the family healthcare provider, a social worker, or other professionals to help a child recover from a traumatic situation.

Child Psychologist Salaries Lowest 10% Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Projected Growth Rate (2021-2031) $47,850 $81,040 $133,890 6%

Source: BLS

Featured Online Psychology Programs

How Do I Become a Child Psychologist

You must earn a doctorate in psychology, work under the supervision of a licensed psychologist, and qualify for a state license. Specific requirements vary by state.

If you want to work in the field of child psychology but do not want to earn a Ph.D. or doctor of psychology (Psy.D.), you can consider becoming a child therapist or counselor or school psychologist. School psychologists earn education specialist (Ed.S) degrees, which takes less time.

Education for Child Psychologists

To become a child psychologist, you need an extensive education. Clinical psychologists must have a doctorate, either a Psy.D. or a Ph.D. to practice. Either type of doctorate requires a thesis and an internship in addition to classroom work. In many states, school psychologists only need a master’s degree. Most master’s degrees, however, still require extensive clinical hours.

Child psychologists usually earn their bachelor’s degree in psychology or child psychology, though others earn their degree in related subjects, such as education. Some master’s programs require the GRE examination, but may exempt students with a GPA above a certain level.

A Psy.D. program focuses on clinical psychology, while a Ph.D. focuses on research. A graduate of a Ph.D. program is more likely to go into research or academia. However, you can become a licensed psychologist with either doctorate. Most states require two years of supervised professional practice before you can practice independently.

Licensure for Child Psychologists

All states require a doctorate, a postdoctoral internship, and a passing grade on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) to become a clinical child psychologist. Many states also require professionals to pass a jurisprudence exam, which covers state laws related to practicing psychology.

Licensing requirements for other child psychology jobs, such as a school psychologist, vary. These requirements often include at least a master’s degree, passing the EPPP, an internship, and passing a jurisprudence examination. Many states offer either license reciprocity or licensing through endorsement, which applies credentials that match or exceed that state’s requirements. You must participate in continuing education to maintain your license.

The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards provides a guide to the requirements to become a psychologist or a school psychologist in different states and a directory of state licensing authorities.

Board Certification for Child Psychologists

The American Board of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (ABCCAP) offers board certification in clinical child and adolescent psychology. Candidates must have a doctorate from a program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA), a state license, specialized experience in clinical child and adolescent psychology, an internship, postdoctoral supervised practice, and at least three years of post-degree experience in child psychology.

Maintaining your certification requires continuing education. While certification is not legally required, most employers demand or strongly prefer certification, as it demonstrates your knowledge and experience to clients.

Pre-Professional Experience for Child Psychologists

Certification and licensing as a clinical child psychologist both require an internship. Many states also expect an additional period of supervised practice for related child psychology careers. Internships almost always take place during the final year of your doctorate. Often, there are more applicants than open internships, so you may not be placed in an internship during your first attempt.

During your internship, you can expect to work alongside a practicing child psychologist. This is demanding work, especially if you are also preparing your dissertation at the same time. If you have a break between your application and your internship, take advantage of this time to get ahead on your dissertation.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Child Psychologist

  • How many years does it take to become a child psychologist?

    It typically takes at least ten years to become a child psychologist. This includes an undergraduate degree, master’s degree, doctorate, and fellowship.

  • What is the quickest way to become a child psychologist?

    There is no shortcut to becoming a child psychologist. If you enter college with enough AP credits to finish early and study full-time in graduate school, or attend a fast-paced program, you may be able to finish your education sooner.

  • How hard is it to become a child psychologist?

    You must earn a doctorate degree to become a child psychologist, which requires long years in school, completing internships, performing research, and writing a thesis. You must also work under a licensed psychologist’s supervision and pass the EPPP before becoming licensed. Individual states may have other requirements.

  • Do I have to have a doctorate to become a child psychologist?

    You must have a doctorate to become a clinical child psychologist. Other careers in child psychology, like school counselors, require a minimum of a master’s degree.

Child Psychology Resources and Professional Organizations

Page Last Reviewed: November 1, 2022

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Child psychologists work with children to diagnose and treat various developmental, behavioral, and mental disorders. To become a child psychologist, candidates need a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in psychology or a related field. This means they must complete a four-year bachelor’s degree and then matriculate into a doctoral program that takes 5-7 years. Doctoral programs explore theoretical and clinical perspectives through a combination of coursework, field practicums, and research.

Child psychologists also need state licensure. While requirements vary by state, students must typically pass the National Psychology Licensing Exam and complete two years of supervised clinical or counseling experience.

Child psychologists are sometimes called developmental psychologists. While developmental psychology refers to the study of cognitive and behavioral processes that occur throughout the lifespan, many developmental psychologists focus on children and adolescents. A child psychology career overlaps with other positions, including mental health counselor, school psychologist, clinical psychologist, and social worker.

Mental health counselors diagnose and treat mental health issues while school psychologists work with students to address behavioral or emotional problems affecting their learning. Clinical psychologists treat emotional and behavioral disorders while social workers help individuals in need identify their problems and how to resolve them. If these professionals specialized in working with children, they would fulfill many of the functions of a child psychologist.

Read on to explore child psychology education requirements and learn how to become a child psychologist.

What Does a Child Psychologist Do?

Child Psychology Career Basics

Child psychologists work with children struggling with mental, emotional, or behavioral health disorders, such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, and autism. They may also treat children who have experienced trauma or are struggling with addiction. During their training and studies, child psychology students learn about typical social and emotional development, abnormal behavior and disorders, and treatment methods.

These professionals may continue to research childhood and adolescent development or focus solely on clinical practice and working with patients. Some child psychologists work part time as researchers or university faculty members while working part time in their own private practice. In addition to research and clinical positions, child psychologists can also fulfill administrative roles, developing programs or curricula that facilitate healthy emotional and behavioral development.

Child Psychology Careers In-Depth

Child psychologists work in hospitals, mental health clinics, schools, government agencies, and private practices. While their responsibilities vary depending, child psychologists often conduct assessments or evaluations for diagnostic purposes, develop individualized treatment plans for patients, and educate family members on how to respond to certain behaviors. They may also recommend intervention or rehabilitation programs and record treatment progress and patient response.

Daily duties include interviewing parents and children, conducting behavioral observation and cognitive testing, and consulting with other professionals about treatment and care options. Child psychologists in private practice may also spend time marketing their services and building a client base.

While these professionals can set their hours, they may work evenings or weekends to accommodate client schedules. Child psychologists in private practice can also choose whether they work full time or part time. In hospitals or healthcare facilities, child psychologists may face longer hours or overtime shifts. Psychologists working in other settings, such as government organizations or schools, generally work regular business hours.

Child Psychologist Salaries and Job Growth

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists earned a median annual salary of $80,370 in 2019. The BLS projects jobs for psychologists to grow 14% between 2018 and 2028, which is faster than average. Child psychologists occupy a specific subfield of psychologists, and their salaries generally fall within the scope of available BLS data.

Salaries vary depending on workplace setting, along with a psychologist’s specialization, geographic location, and years of experience. According to PayScale, clinical child psychologists earn an annual salary of $60,000 and child psychologists with counseling skills earn a salary of $75,405.

Child psychologists earn more as they gain field experience. An early career psychologist with 1-4 years of experience can expect to earn around $68,130 per year, according to PayScale. A mid-career psychologist with 5-9 years experience makes around $73,974.

Child psychologists typically earn a salary from a particular organization, such as a hospital, school, mental health facility, rehabilitation center, research institution, or government agency. Employers set these salaries, although exact amounts vary depending on candidates’ qualifications and job position.

Some child psychologists also make money from private practice, where they might offer independent counseling and therapy services. In private practice, child psychologists set their own rates and typically charge by the hour.

Psychologist Salaries Career Lowest 10% Salary Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Salary Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028) Psychologists Less than $45,380 $80,370 More than $132,070 14%

Source: BLS

Steps to Becoming a Child Psychologist

Becoming a child psychologist takes years of education, fellowships, and hard work before ever being issued a license. The following section details the necessary steps to starting your practice.

Step 1

Complete a Related Bachelor’s Degree

Psychology: A bachelor’s degree in psychology requires 120 credits and includes major courses in developmental psychology, social psychology, abnormal psychology, and research methods. Schools may offer bachelor of arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BS) options. A BA requires more liberal arts general education courses while a BS requires more basic science courses. In some programs, students can choose a concentration or track within the broader psychology major, such as school psychology, health psychology, neuroscience, and counseling psychology. Schools may also offer fast track or combination programs that allow learners to apply bachelor’s credits toward a master’s degree at the same institution. Different schools and programs offer different courses and specialization tracks. Counseling: A bachelor’s degree in counseling requires 120-180 credits and covers topics such as diversity issues in counseling, methods of counseling, and crisis intervention. The curricula typically focus on counseling strategies rather than psychological theory. Counseling programs may offer concentrations or tracks in areas including

Aspiring child psychologists must first complete a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology, counseling, mental health, or behavioral health. Not all schools offer child psychology as a major. Some programs offer child psychology only as a specialization, concentration, or minor. Other programs do not offer child psychology at all. A bachelor’s degree typically takes four years to complete.Psychology: A bachelor’s degree in psychology requires 120 credits and includes major courses in developmental psychology, social psychology, abnormal psychology, and research methods. Schools may offer bachelor of arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BS) options. A BA requires more liberal arts general education courses while a BS requires more basic science courses. In some programs, students can choose a concentration or track within the broader psychology major, such as school psychology, health psychology, neuroscience, and counseling psychology. Schools may also offer fast track or combination programs that allow learners to apply bachelor’s credits toward a master’s degree at the same institution. Different schools and programs offer different courses and specialization tracks.Counseling: A bachelor’s degree in counseling requires 120-180 credits and covers topics such as diversity issues in counseling, methods of counseling, and crisis intervention. The curricula typically focus on counseling strategies rather than psychological theory. Counseling programs may offer concentrations or tracks in areas including substance abuse , mental health, school counseling, art therapy, and family and marriage counseling. A bachelor’s degree in counseling can lead to entry-level positions in related fields or a graduate program on a track to obtain a counseling license. Practicing counselors require a master’s degree and state certification. They can work as school and career counselors, substance abuse and mental health counselors, or marriage and family therapists

Step 2

Find a Suitable Graduate Program

Ph.D. programs are ideal for students not only interested in clinical practice but also in research and academia. A Ph.D. takes 4-7 years to complete and culminates in the completion of a dissertation based on a student’s own research. Ph.D. in psychology programs are fairly competitive and require a strong GPA, GRE scores, recommendation letters, college transcripts, and a personal statement. Learners can pursue Ph.D. programs in developmental psychology, child psychology, and clinical psychology with an emphasis in developmental or child psychology. While any of these programs prepare students for a career as a licensed psychologist, students at the Ph.D. level should research faculty members at each school to see which professors complete research in their desired areas. Students who want to focus on clinical practice without dedicating time to research often choose a Psy.D. This degree imposes less research requirements and takes less time to complete.

After completing a bachelor’s, aspiring child psychologists should pursue graduate school. While terminal master’s degrees exist in this field, they do not qualify individuals to become child psychologists. Instead, professionals need a doctorate to become licensed child psychologists. When choosing a suitable doctoral program, students must first choose between earning a Ph.D. in psychology or a Psy.D. (doctor of psychology).Ph.D. programs are ideal for students not only interested in clinical practice but also in research and academia. A Ph.D. takes 4-7 years to complete and culminates in the completion of a dissertation based on a student’s own research.Ph.D. in psychology programs are fairly competitive and require a strong GPA, GRE scores, recommendation letters, college transcripts, and a personal statement. Learners can pursue Ph.D. programs in developmental psychology, child psychology, and clinical psychology with an emphasis in developmental or child psychology. While any of these programs prepare students for a career as a licensed psychologist, students at the Ph.D. level should research faculty members at each school to see which professors complete research in their desired areas.Students who want to focus on clinical practice without dedicating time to research often choose a Psy.D. This degree imposes less research requirements and takes less time to complete.

Step 3

Complete Practicum and Licensure Requirements

Candidates for psychology licensure must also complete a certain number of supervised clinical hours — ranging from 1,500-6,000 — as designated by their state’s licensing board. Learners may complete these clinical hours as part of a practicum during the course of a doctoral degree or in a postdoctoral fellowship or work setting. Practicums allow students to work closely with psychology professionals in the course of counseling and treating patients. Students often complete practicums in mental health facilities, private practices, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and correctional facilities. Learners may also explore postdoctoral fellowships to gain hands-on clinical experience. Licensing requirements vary by state but generally include a doctoral degree in the field, the completion of supervised clinical experience, and passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). The EPPP tests candidate competencies in core psychology areas. Each state posts its own minimum score requirements that applicants must meet to obtain their license. Some states may also require candidates to pass a jurisprudence exam.

Step 4

Become Board Certified

Board certification represents to the public, patients, and potential employers that a psychologist has completed the necessary educational, training, and experience requirements to be an expert in a particular specialization. Although not required to practice psychology, board certification allows licensed psychologists to specialize and gain the expertise necessary to work with special populations or in specific subfields. The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) certifies licensed psychologists in 15 specialty areas, including health psychology, neuropsychology, and school psychology. To obtain ABPP certification in one of these specialty areas, psychologists need licensure in psychology, at least five years of work experience, specialized training, continuing education in one of the specialty areas, and a passing grade on a competency exam.

Child Psychology Courses

Learners who take doctoral-level courses in child psychology or developmental psychology develop competencies such as research skills and knowledge of psychological theory and best practices. Students can then apply their knowledge to their own dissertation research and practicum or internship experiences.

See below for some courses students may take during their graduate studies. Note that not every program offers these specific courses.

Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology

Lifespan Development

Language and Cognitive Development

Social and Emotional Development

Ph.D. in Child Psychology

Developmental Psychopathology

Child Interventions

Clinical Neuropsychology

Accreditation for Psychology Degrees

Accreditation serves as quality assurance for colleges and universities. Accrediting agencies evaluate schools based on a set of standards to ensure that students and parents receive a high-quality education. Six regional accrediting agencies oversee designated geographic regions.

Regional accreditation is considered more prestigious than national accreditation. Credits between regionally accredited universities transfer more easily since they adhere to the same standards.

Several national accrediting agencies focus on specific vocations, trades, technical careers, and professions. Psychology programs at the bachelor’s and master’s level are subject to regional accreditation at the institutional level. Doctoral programs are accredited by national accrediting agencies.

The American Psychological Association (APA) is the only organization authorized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit doctoral psychology programs. The APA accredits clinical psychology, school psychology, and counseling psychology doctoral programs as well as postdoctoral residencies in professional psychology.

Related Careers at a Glance

The child psychology field offers multiple career paths and specializations, including in general psychology, school psychology, neuropsychology, forensic psychology, and clinical psychology. These fields require the same level of education and licensing requirements, but the specific content of coursework and training varies.

Psychologist

Psychologists study behavior and brain function through the observation of behavioral or emotional patterns in how people relate to each other and their environments. They also assess, diagnose, and treat psychological, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Psychologists may work independently in private practice or research. They may also work as part of a healthcare team or in school settings.

School Psychologist

School psychologists apply psychological theory and research to assessing whether students’ learning needs are being met. They counsel students, address student learning or behavioral issues, assess learning disabilities and disorders, design performance plans and school programs, evaluate student performance, and recommend strategies for enhancing learning and coping with classroom struggles. School psychologists earn an annual salary of $62,045

Neuropsychologist

Neuropsychologists specialize in brain function and how behaviors and emotions relate to brain structures and systems. They assess and evaluate brain function in the event of brain injury or when impairment due to aging, illness, or other causes begin to present. Neuropsychologists typically work in hospitals and earn an annual salary of $93,324

Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists apply the principles and techniques of psychology to the legal realm in civil or criminal courts. They evaluate and assess a person’s psychological wellbeing for legal purposes, provide treatment to criminals or families going through divorce, and serve as expert witnesses during trials. Forensic psychologists make an annual salary of $70,287

Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists specialize in the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders — including bipolar disorder, dementia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and autism. They work in private practice, hospitals, schools and universities, rehabilitation centers, and mental health facilities. Clinical psychologists earn an annual salary of $80,173

Child Psychology Degrees and Career Resources

Prospective child psychologists and practicing professionals can access a variety of organizations and resources that provide research journals and conferences, professional development and training opportunities, continuing education and certifications, job boards, and advocacy. Membership in professional organizations also presents opportunities for networking and forming collaborations with colleagues with a shared specialization.

Prospective child psychologists and practicing professionals can access a variety of organizations and resources that provide research journals and conferences, professional development and training opportunities, continuing education and certifications, job boards, and advocacy. Membership in professional organizations also presents opportunities for networking and forming collaborations with colleagues with a shared specialization.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology

This membership-based group supports individuals in the field by providing advocacy, a job center, research findings, and regional chapters.

This membership-based group supports individuals in the field by providing advocacy, a job center, research findings, and regional chapters.

American Psychological Association

The APA is the governing body for many different facets of the field of psychology, ranging from accreditation to overseeing many different specialized professional bodies. The website provides a wealth of information for prospective child psychologists.

The APA is the governing body for many different facets of the field of psychology, ranging from accreditation to overseeing many different specialized professional bodies. The website provides a wealth of information for prospective child psychologists.

Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology

This academic publication heralds the latest data and emerging research within child and adolescent psychology. Professionals can read about the work of their peers or contribute their own research.

This academic publication heralds the latest data and emerging research within child and adolescent psychology. Professionals can read about the work of their peers or contribute their own research.

National Association of School Psychologists

Individuals looking to counsel and treat students in an educational setting are often drawn to roles as school psychologists, and the NASP exists to help these professionals. Membership perks include access to research findings, conferences, professional development opportunities, and a variety of certifications.

Individuals looking to counsel and treat students in an educational setting are often drawn to roles as school psychologists, and the NASP exists to help these professionals. Membership perks include access to research findings, conferences, professional development opportunities, and a variety of certifications.

Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology

Operating under the umbrella of the American Psychological Association, Division 53 exists to develop and advance the field of child and adolescent psychology. Whether advocating for better public policy or providing training opportunities, SCCAP is a valuable resource for those in the field.

Operating under the umbrella of the American Psychological Association, Division 53 exists to develop and advance the field of child and adolescent psychology. Whether advocating for better public policy or providing training opportunities, SCCAP is a valuable resource for those in the field.

CHILD PSYCHOLOGY DEGREES SEARCH TOOL

This search tool can help prospective students narrow down program options within the United States and find an undergraduate or graduate program in child psychology. Search results yield information on tuition and fees, acceptance rate, student population, and available programs. Learners can filter schools by location, cost, school type, learning environment, and available specializations.

ONLINE SCHOOLS FOR CHILD PSYCHOLOGY

Distance learning degree programs are increasingly popular and are offered by traditional colleges and primarily online institutions alike. These web-based programs allow students to balance classes and schoolwork with their busy schedules and other commitments. Some programs may be hybrid, meaning that some classroom instruction or fieldwork is required.

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