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.
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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.
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Page Last Reviewed: November 1, 2022