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How to Become a Child Psychologist

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What is Child Psychology?

Child psychologists study learning patterns, behavioral developments, and environmental factors affecting children from infancy through adolescence.

They may specialize in developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, or adolescent psychology. Parents of children who have suffered trauma or who have physical, mental, or learning disabilities often seek help from child psychologists.

These professionals can work as counselors, advisors, or researchers for social, academic, corporate or community programs. Read on to learn more about the practice of child psychology and how to maximize opportunities in the field.

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What Does a Child Psychologist Do?

Many child psychologists work in private practices, often collaborating with academic and healthcare professionals. Depending on their specialty, child psychologists may work in the court system, daycares, elementary and secondary schools, government organizations, hospitals, or research facilities. Successful child psychologists possess the following core skills:

Skills and Competencies

  • Strong Communication and Observation

  • Complex Problem-Solving

  • Analytical Evaluation

  • Trustworthiness

  • Patience

  • Empathy

  • Motivation to Help Others

  • Various concentrations address different patient needs based on age or specific psychological or behavioral issues. The following sections detail the three primary concentrations in child psychology:

    Areas of Expertise in Child Psychology


    • 1. Adolescent Psychology

      Adolescent psychologists work with patients between the ages of 12 and 18. They examine issues relevant to teenagers.

      Examples of Issues Examined

      • Depression
      • Anger management
      • Anxiety
      • Eating disorders
      • Learning disabilities

      Psychologists develop a system of therapeutic techniques and behavior modifications for pre-teen and teenage patients through regular psychotherapy sessions and frequent communication with parents and family, teachers and medical providers.

      Common Job Titles

      • Child/Adolescent Therapist
      • Licensed Counseling Psychologist
      • Attending Psychologist – Children and Adolescents
      • School Psychologist – Children and Adolescents



    • 2. Developmental Child Psychology

      Psychologists conduct research and study how aging affects children by observing emotional and cognitive developments.

      Examples of Observed Developments

      • Language
      • Moral understanding
      • Motor skills
      • Cognitive function
      • Social skills
      • Identity formation
      • Environmental factors

      Developmental psychologists emphasize the impact of early development on later life. Research methods such as systematic observation, structured interviews and correlation exercises are often used.

      Common Job Titles

      • Developmental Psychologist
      • Child/Adolescent Therapist
      • School Psychologist
      • Research Professional – Developmental Psychology
      • Developmental Child Psychology Professor
      • Art Therapist



    • 3. Abnormal Child Psychologist

      Abnormal child psychologists treat issues considered atypical by child psychology development standards, often the result of trauma, emotional or physical abuse.

      Examples of Issues Treated

      • Anxiety
      • Mood disorders
      • Psychopathology
      • Sociopathy
      • Depression
      • Personality disorders

      In severe cases, abnormal child psychologists may continue to see patients well into adulthood. Parents and family often require consultation to understand the severity of the patient’s psychological issues and behavior.

      Common Job Titles

      • Abnormal Psychologist – Children
      • Abnormal Child Psychology Professor
      • Mental/Behavioral Health Professional



    Child Psychology By the Numbers

    Psychologists can explore a variety of lucrative career opportunities across the field, focusing on different disciplines. Psychologists enjoy annual median salaries of $79,010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In 2018, the lowest 10% of psychologists earned less than $43,800, while the highest 10% earned more than $129,250.

    These salary figures break down further by psychology type, with clinical, counseling, and school psychologists earning median annual wages of $87,450. Industrial-organizational psychologists earn median annual wages of $111,150, while all other psychologists enjoy annual median wages of $98,230.

    The top-paying industries for psychologists include government, hospitals (state, local, and private), ambulatory healthcare services, and elementary and secondary schools.

    The BLS projects jobs for psychologists to grow 14% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than the average for all other occupations. Employment for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists continue to grow, since the demand for psychological services in schools, mental health centers, hospitals, and social service agencies remains constant.

    How Do I Become a Child Psychologist?

    Becoming a child psychologist requires a minimum of a master’s degree, with a major in child development or clinical psychology studies. Psychologists need a Ph.D., which focuses on research, or a Psy.D., which focuses on clinical practice, to advance to top positions in the field. Beginning at the master’s level, clinical internships and practicums are integrated into standard curriculum. Individuals need post-internship experience or fieldwork to obtain state licensure and professional certification.

    If you want to know how to become a child psychologist, read on to explore your options. Select the status that best describes your present level of education in the field:


    • I'm an Undergraduate or Have Completed my Undergraduate

      • Declare as a psychology major.

        Undergraduate psychology courses are likely to include:

        • Intro to Psychology
        • Behavioral Psychology
        • Cognitive Psychology
        • Biological Psychology
        • Social Psychology
        • Statistical Methods
      • Consider a specialty.

        • Focus your interest. Explore a niche related to child psychology.
        • Seek out professors or professionals working in your specialty and talk with them. Getting a head start on your thesis topic is always recommended.
      • Take the GRE.

        • Look up minimum admittance score requirements for your school.
        • Practice taking the test multiple times.
        • Consider a paid GRE prep course if your scores are low.
        • Schedule your test date, leaving enough time to re-test if you need to try again for a higher score.
      • Get reference letters.

        • Maintain a friendly relationship with your professors. Make an effort to stand out. They will remember you when it’s time to start requesting references.
        • If you’ve fallen out of touch with your instructors or academic acquaintances, don’t feel intimidated about contacting them. Most likely, they will ask about your goals and interests to learn about your background and aspirations.
      • Choose a graduate school.

        • Use our psychology database to find the best child psychology graduate programs. The school you select is directly related to your employment prospects post-graduation. Choose a school with both a recognized child psychology program and a strong alumni network.


    • I'm Pursuing a Graduate Degree

      • Come up with a thesis.

        • This will create the framework of your early career. Ideally, you will already have decided where your interests lie. If not, don’t hesitate to select a research topic.
        • Input from professors can help flesh out a full hypothesis from your initial idea.
      • Find an internship.

        • Aim to be working while you are in school. Internships can lead directly into jobs and networking opportunities, as well as strengthen your qualifications.
      • Network with professors and professionals in the field.

        • Networking is the most important part of the job-search process.
        • Hone your interview skills with the help of your school’s career services department. Professional communication and networking skills will prove advantageous throughout your entire career.


    • I Have a Master's or PhD

      • Refine your resume and keep it current.

        • Maintain a professional, relevant and interesting resume.
        • Ask trustworthy friends or colleagues to proofread your resume and make suggestions for improving it.
        • Remember to update your resume frequently to include your most recent experience.
      • Start sending out job applications.

        • Expect a long and laborious process from application and potential employment. Those with a systematic method will have the best chances of finding a job.
        • Always customize your cover letters to each position.
        • Reach out to potential employers through LinkedIn; making a personal connection can increase your chances of being invited to interview.
      • Prepare for interviews.

        • Ask friends to help you practice interviewing.
        • Research the company so that you can briefly describe its mission to your interviewer, if asked.
        • Remember to dress professionally, bring your resume and act respectfully.
      • You’re now a child psychologist.

        • Congratulations! Remember, don’t stop building your career now. Pay attention to the latest developments in the industry and seek out new opportunities to advance your skills and grow your income.


    Licensure for Child Psychologists

    Each state requires its own specific licensing requirements that professionals must meet. To practice child psychology, professionals must obtain licensure from their state’s licensing board. In some states, psychologists working at a college, university, research laboratory, state or federal institution, or a research corporation might not need to obtain licensure.

    Licensing requirements include meeting educational criteria. Most states require a doctoral degree in psychology from a regionally accredited college or university. All states require candidates for licensure to complete and pass the EPPP test, demonstrating their competencies in core areas of psychology. Each state sets its own parameters for minimum score requirements that applicants must meet to obtain their license.

    In addition to educational criteria and passing the EPPP exam, candidates for psychology licensure must accrue supervised clinical hours designated by their state’s licensing board. Some states might also require candidates to pass a jurisprudence exam.

    Psychology Internship Opportunities

    Child psychologist education requirements typically include an internship or practicum component. Specific requirements differ depending on the degree level, college or university, and program focus. Internships and practicums share many similarities, including providing valuable in-the-field experience that allows learners to connect coursework concepts to professional responsibilities.

    The scope of work students perform differs between practicums and internships. Practicums allow degree-seekers to work closely with psychology professionals, watching them perform tasks like recommending treatments and counseling their patients. Meanwhile, internships allow learners to work more independently, reporting to a supervisor, but often performing duties without a supervisor’s direct presence.

    Internships and practicums in the psychology field allow learners to consider a variety of settings, encouraging them to choose an opportunity that directly relates to their desired career path. These settings include substance abuse facilities, private practices, correctional facilities, and hospitals. Psychology students can review this page to learn more about internship organizations and resources.

    Internship or practicum length depends on a school’s specific requirements. Most opportunities require learners to complete more than 1,000 hours of in-the-field experience. Instead of payment, these experiences usually provide learners with academic credits.

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