Ideal for individuals with a passion for understanding human behavior and helping children overcome challenges, a doctorate in child psychology can lead to lucrative and rewarding psychology careers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for psychologists to grow 14% from 2016-2026.
Child psychologists work in a variety of settings, including healthcare facilities, government agencies, schools, private practices, and universities. This guide explores the benefits and requirements of Ph.D. in child psychology programs and details how to become a child psychologist.
Earning a Ph.D. vs. a Psy.D.
All practicing psychologists must hold a doctorate — either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. The former degree emphasizes research, while the latter prepares students for clinical practice. Both types of child psychology graduate programs can lead to a career as a practicing psychologist, but only the Ph.D. qualifies graduates to teach or conduct research at the college level. Ideal for therapists, social workers, and other master's degree-holders, a Psy.D. qualifies graduates to obtain licensure as a clinical psychologist.
Students typically complete either type of program in 4-7 years, including the 1-2 years required to earn a master's degree. Ph.D. programs are often smaller and more competitive than Psy.D. programs. Ph.D. students often work as teaching or research assistants in exchange for financial aid, and Ph.D. programs typically include rigorous research methods coursework and a dissertation comprising original research. Psy.D. programs, on the other hand, may require a dissertation or a capstone project, in which students apply research to practical clinical situations.
Typical Admission Requirements:
Bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field, minimum 3.0 GPA, and GRE scores
Time to Completion:
Why Get a Ph.D. in Child Psychology?
Earning a doctorate in child psychology can lead to a career as a clinical psychologist. Graduates often enjoy the professional and personal benefits listed below.
- Clinical practice offers opportunities to help children and families cope with emotional and psychological challenges.
- Psychology professors teach and research exciting and relevant topics.
- Child psychology experts can make a significant impact by speaking or writing about their research or clinical practice.
- Positively impacting the lives of patients, clients, and students can be highly rewarding.
- Professionals can find fulfillment by designing therapies and interventions that help children.
While degree requirements vary by school, program, degree type, and specialization area, most doctoral programs in child psychology include the following milestones.
Doctoral coursework in child psychology includes core classes in the field and advanced coursework in human development and research methods. Psychological research methods and statistics courses prepare students to conduct research and complete a dissertation. Advanced psychology courses cover topics like assessment, psychopathology, multicultural issues, and professional ethics.
Some doctoral programs in child psychology require field experiences, during which students apply classroom knowledge. Some programs require as many as one practicum per semester. Practicum courses hone critical skills, such as interviewing and assessment, through supervised practice. Learners receive opportunities to reflect on and discuss their field experiences.
Students take a series of research courses that guide them through the dissertation process. Learners propose a research question, design a project, collect and analyze data, and write a paper illustrating their results. Students work with an advisor as they write and prepare to defend their dissertation. To earn a doctorate, students must complete all coursework and successfully defend their doctoral thesis.
To become a licensed psychologist, doctoral candidates must finish their dissertation, pass qualifying exams, and complete a one-year internship approved by the American Psychological Association. State psychology licensure typically requires supervised clinical internship hours and postgraduate experience. State requirements for licensure vary, with most requiring 2,000-4,000 hours (1-2 years) of supervised practice.
What Can You Do With a Ph.D. in Child Psychology?
Doctoral degree-holders in child psychology typically work as clinical or research psychologists. Graduates can work as school psychologists, developmental psychologists, clinical psychologists, and child/adolescent psychologists. A Ph.D. qualifies professionals to enter independent clinical practice after obtaining state licensure and to teach and conduct research at the college level.
All states require clinical psychologists to hold a license. To qualify for licensure, candidates must earn a doctoral degree, complete supervised clinical hours, undergo a background check, and pass a qualifying exam, such as the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. Most states require 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical practice, including one year during graduate school and one year after.
Specific licensure requirements vary by state, so contact your state board to learn about licensure requirements. Fees for licensure and background checks also vary by state and can cost several hundred dollars. State licensure typically requires continuing education and renewal every few years.
In addition to obtaining licensure, child psychologists can become nationally certified through the American Board of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.
- Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology This division of the American Psychological Association offers educational, student, and professional resources, including publications and continuing education classes. Networking opportunities include discussion forums, events, and special interest groups.
- American Board of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology This board offers national certification for child psychologists and maintains a directory of certified specialists. The website links to resources from the American Board of Professional Psychology, including conference information, continuing education opportunities, and news.
- Association for Psychological Science This research-focused association offers reports, journals, conferences, and career services, including job postings. Through the APS website, psychologists and graduate students can access research on a variety of psychology topics.