How to Become a Child Psychologist

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Updated April 18, 2024 · 5 Min Read

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Our guide includes all you need to know about starting a career in child psychology, including education requirements, job responsibilities, and earning power.

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Child psychologists help children and their families by diagnosing and treating mental health conditions.

Do you enjoy working with children, are a good collaborator, and want to help children grow and learn? Consider becoming a child psychologist. Learn more in this guide, including the required education, licensing requirements, and potential salaries.

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What Is a Child Psychologist?

Child psychologists are licensed mental health professionals working with children and adolescents, assessing and diagnosing behavioral, cognitive, developmental, and emotional issues. They also aid patients dealing with trauma and loss, guide children and their parents through stressful challenges, and lead psychotherapeutic and behavioral interventions.

Becoming a child psychologist requires excellent communication, observational, and analytical skills and compassion. Child psychologists also need advanced research skills, including study design and the practical applications of research insights.

Child psychologists work in healthcare facilities, institutional settings, and private practices. In addition to patients and their parents or caregivers, they collaborate with peers and sometimes liaise with authorities in the child welfare, law enforcement, and criminal justice systems.

How to Become a Child Psychologist

Beginning with an undergraduate degree and a license, it typically takes at least 10 years to become a child psychologist. Licensure is regulated at the state level, and requirements vary slightly among jurisdictions, but they generally include the following:

  1. 1

    Earn a Bachelor's Degree

    Your journey begins with a bachelor's degree, which typically takes about four years of full-time study. Ideal majors include general psychology or child psychology. These programs build the foundations upon which your later learning will grow.

  2. 2

    Consider a Master's Degree

    Master's degrees in child psychology act as an important bridge between foundational and advanced studies. If you did not specialize in child psychology at the bachelor's level, a concentrated master's degree can help you address knowledge gaps.

    Note that some doctoral programs accept candidates without an advanced degree. However, a master's degree will likely support your success at the doctoral level. Schools also offer intensive graduate programs leading to combined master's and doctoral credentials.

  3. 3

    Earn a Doctoral Degree

    To become a child psychologist, you will need a doctoral degree. Some states additionally require that you earn a doctorate specifically accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA).

    Psychology doctorates come in doctor or psychology (Psy.D.) and doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) variants. Psy.D. degrees generally emphasize applied clinical skills, while child psychology Ph.D. programs focus more on research and pedagogy. Both degree designations qualify you for licensure.

  4. 4

    Satisfy Internship and Supervised Clinical Requirements

    Along with a doctorate, you must complete thousands of hours of supervised clinical training experiences to qualify for a child psychologist license. Graduate programs work some of these experiences into their curricula, but you must continue accruing hours beyond graduation. Specific requirements vary by state, with the APA citing a range of 1,500–6,000 hours.

  5. 5

    Pursue State Licensure

    You can proceed with licensing after completing your education and accruing the necessary number of clinical experience hours. You must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) to earn your initial license. Some states also require jurisprudence and/or ethics tests.

Child Psychologist Licensure

To maintain your license, you must remain in good professional standing and renew your credentials on fixed schedules. In most states, licenses remain valid for two years before you must renew. During each renewal period, you must complete a specific number of continuing education or professional development hours.

According to the APA, 12 U.S. states and Canadian provinces participate in a reciprocity agreement that facilitates easy license transfer. However, no national procedure exists, and psychologists may face challenges getting licensed to practice in different states.

If you cannot transfer your license under a reciprocity agreement, you must meet your destination state's licensing requirements. Depending on the location, this may involve completing additional clinical experiences or examinations.

Child Psychologist Board Certification

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.

Child Psychologist Outlook and Salaries

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 6% job growth for psychologists from 2022–2032, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Salaries vary by location. According to the BLS, clinical or counseling psychologists earn the highest average salaries in New Jersey, California, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Maine. Colorado, California, New Mexico, New York, and Washington are the five top-paying states for school psychologists.

The following table offers a national breakdown of earning potential by specialization:

Child Psychologist Salaries
Occupation Average Annual Salary
School Psychologists $91,990
Clinical and Counseling Psychologists $106,600
Psychologists, All Other $110,300
Source: BLS

Child Psychologist FAQs

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

Becoming a child psychologist takes at least ten years, including an undergraduate degree, master's degree, doctorate, and licensure.

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

You must earn a doctorate 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.

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.

Page last reviewed on April 10, 2024

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