How to Become a Child Psychologist

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What Is Child Psychology?

Child psychology is the study of how children interact with others and process the world around them. Child psychologists can make a tremendous difference in children's lives by helping them explore their feelings in a healthy way and overcome difficulties.

UNICEF reports that more than 1 in 7 adolescents worldwide have a diagnosed mental condition, such as anxiety or depression. The need for more child psychologists is projected to grow in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Explore this guide to learn how to become a child psychologist, explore information on child psychology salaries, and discover career options within child psychology.

Child Psychology Salaries

Psychologist salaries are nearly two times greater than the average U.S. median salary, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) at $82,180. However, this figure represents all psychologists, rather than child psychologists specifically.

Payscale data from September 2021 shows an average child psychology salary of $67,420 based on 120 salary reports.

Lowest 10% Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Projected Growth Rate (2020-2030)
$46,270 $82,180 $137,590 8%
Source: BLS

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How Do I Become a Child Psychologist?

Clinical child psychologists need a license to practice, though requirements vary by state. Most child psychologists hold a doctoral degree, which can take 10 years to complete. Others can practice in related fields, such as school psychology, with a master's degree.

School psychologists also need a successful background check and either a license or board certification, depending on the state.

Education for Child Psychologists

Child psychology careers require 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 Child Psychologists

Is being a child psychologist worth it?

Whether being a child psychologist is worth it to you depends on your career, financial, and personal goals. Child psychology careers can be stressful, especially if you work with children who have been traumatized or have behavioral problems. However, child psychology jobs are also emotionally rewarding.

How much do child psychologists make?

Psychologists make a median annual salary of $67,420, according to Payscale data. Child psychology salaries are higher than the average U.S. median salary, but you may also graduate with student loan debt—an important factor to take into consideration.

Is demand high for child psychologists?

The BLS projects an 8% growth rate for all psychologist jobs between 2020 and 2030. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for child psychologists, so demand may continue to increase.

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

You must have a doctorate to become a clinical child psychologist, but other child psychologist careers require a minimum of a master's degree.

What Does a Child Psychologist Do?

Child psychologists work in schools, private practices, nonprofits that serve children and youth, healthcare settings, and government agencies. The type of work varies based on the environment and age group you want to work with. Child psychologists can specialize in areas, such as:

  • Children who have experienced trauma or subspecialties, such as child refugees or children who have been abused
  • Adolescents
  • Eating disorders
  • Forensic psychology (working with children who are victims of or witnesses to crimes)
  • Children with learning disorders
  • Children with serious health conditions
  • Children in the correctional system

However, in nearly every setting, you will:

  • Conduct tests and interviews with children, families, and possibly other adults
  • Diagnose children's mental health conditions
  • Provide treatment in individual or group sessions
  • Educate parents and families on how to support the child and their needs

In private practices, you will spend most of your time with children and families. As a school psychologist or in other governmental or nonprofit settings, you will work with teachers and administrators. In healthcare, you will work with other clinicians. Academic child psychology careers involve more research in labs or in observational studies.

Skills and Competencies

Child psychologists must be able to communicate well with children, understand child development, and be able to provide culturally competent care. These first two elements are unique to child psychology careers. Because child psychology requires family or guardian involvement, child psychologists must also be able to communicate with family members and work with them to create a plan to support the child's mental wellness and development.

Becoming a child psychologist requires both empathy and the ability to detach yourself emotionally. With children, especially those who have experienced severe trauma, this can be especially demanding. However, the satisfaction of helping adolescents in need is one of the biggest attractions for child psychology careers.

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Featured Image: izusek / E+ / Getty Images

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