How to Become a Child Psychologist

How to Become a Child Psychologist

Children grow and develop in different ways and at different rates. While books on child development predict when a child should walk, talk, socialize, or learn to read, not all children progress on the same schedule.

When children lag in development, exhibit behavior problems, or suffer trauma or loss, a child psychologist can help discover the cause prescribe a course of treatment, and help the child and parents work towards a solution. Learning about a psychology career in child psychology will put you on the right path for success.

What is Child Psychology?

  • Child and developmental psychologists study the mental, emotional, and social development of children from birth through adolescence.  They can specialize in a particular age group or specialty area, such as abnormal, adolescent, developmental or school psychology.
  • Abnormal psychology deals with psychological conditions such as anxiety, mood, and personality disorders.
  • Adolescent psychology focuses on adolescents and teens with anxiety, depression or eating disorders.
  • Developmental psychology specializes in childhood disorders or may follow a patient throughout his life into adulthood.
  • School psychologists work in a school setting and work with children with behavior, academic or other school-related problems.
  • Child and developmental psychologists can also work on research projects, with family and marriage counselors, the courts, hospitals, mental health facilities or as a support for social services case workers.

Education Requirements

You will need a Ph.D. to make child and developmental psychology a career. There are some programs in child psychology, but most choose to earn degrees in clinical or counseling psychology.

Students normally complete a two-year internship and gain work experience while completing the educational requirements. In addition, they may monitor children with developmental or psychological problems, administer assessment tests and conduct research.  Psychologists receive training in pharmacology understand the effects of medications, but they cannot prescribe these medications. For this, they probably have someone in their network to refer patients to.

Licensing/Certification for Developmental Psychologists

To set up a practice, child psychologists must pass licensing exams in the state in which they want to practice. Requirements vary, but licensing is required before hanging up a shingle and representing yourself as a child psychologist.

Where Do Child Psychologists Work?

Child psychologists work in private practice in an office setting or in hospitals, clinics, social services facilities, schools, the courts, or the criminal justice system. They can see patients by appointment, appear in court, work with children or adolescents in detention centers or jails, hospitals, or home interventions.

Child psychologists must have a passion for the work and the children. It is a stressful and rewarding profession, requiring compassion, understanding, patience and a measure of professional detachment. Child psychologists must set boundaries and balance building close relationships while not compromising the relationship children have with parents, guardians, family members or others in authority.

Earning Potential of Child Psychologists

The Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2021 data reports the national median annual salary for the group including child psychologists at $102,900. Clinical and counseling psychologists earn a median salary of $82,510, and school psychologists earn a median salary of $78,350.

Top-earning psychologists work in government or hospitals jobs, or in private practice. Salaries can vary with the specialty, work setting and size of the psychologist’s private practice.

How to Become a Child Psychologist

Now that you have a general overview of what it takes to become a child psychologist, let’s look at the steps to become a child psychologist one-by-one.

Step one: Research licensing requirements in your state

Behavioral health professions are regulated by the state, so your state may have its own requirements for becoming a psychologist.

This also depends on what type of child psychologist you want to become. School psychologists may only need a master’s degree, while a clinical psychologist will need a doctoral degree.

Step two: Earn a bachelor’s degree in Child Psychology or a related field

If you are just starting your education, you’ll need to start with a bachelor’s degree. Most psychologists earn their bachelor’s in psychology as well because you will need these courses in your graduate program. You can become a psychologist if your bachelor’s is in a different subject, but the path may be longer.

Step three: Earn an advanced degree in Child Psychology or a related field

Becoming a child psychologist means a commitment to education, no matter where you live. Most people who hold the title of ‘Psychologist’ have at least a doctoral degree, but a school psychologist may work with only a master’s degree. However, school psychologists can only practice within a school setting, they cannot work in private practice.

There are many types of degrees that will help you along this path. Here is a look at a couple:

National University

Master’s Degree in Child and Adolescent Development Psychology

This program is 30 credit hours and since it is 100 percent online, classes start every Monday. This program does not automatically grant you a license to practice – you will still have to follow all the examination requirements for your state. You’ll take courses in prenatal and child development, child and adolescent gender development, ADHD and Autistic Spectrum, among others.

Portland State University

Graduate Focus Area: Applied Developmental Psychology

The focus area for this graduate program is Developmental Science and Education, which focuses on the learning, development and well-being of students, peers, teachers, and staff. Ph.D. students can complete their minor in DeSE and will take courses like Moral Development, Infant Development, Child Psychology and more.

Step four: Licensure

Becoming a licensed psychologist is not an easy task*. Not only must you successfully complete a doctoral program, but you must also get references, work for at least a year under supervision of a psychologist who has been licensed for at least two years and complete a background check. You must also prove residency in the state you are applying for licensure.

*these requirements were taken from the State of Oregon Board of Psychology website, requirements may vary in your state.

Some additional items you will need:

  • Background check
  • Criminal records check
  • Fingerprint clearance
  • License fee (non-refundable)

Once you have practiced as a ‘Psychology Resident’ for a year, you may finalize your application for certification from your state board. There are penalties for practicing without the proper approvals, so make sure you wait each step of the way.

Step five: Examination

All U.S. states and Canadian territories require psychologist applicants to pass the EPPP. You must first apply for licensure from your state, then you can register for the exam. The exam, given by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, requires approval from your state board before you can sit for the exam.

Currently, the EPPP uses a system called Certemy to get you set up for the exam. You’ll receive a link to sign up and pay once you are approved to take the exam.

What score do I need to get on the EPPP?

Most areas want you to have a 500 scaled score on the EPPP. Scores range from 200 to 800, and a 500 is about the equivalent of a 70%. Make sure to check with your state for their requirements.

Step six: Internship/Residency

There is a difference between an internship that you may have while you are in your psychology program and the residency you must complete to gain licensure.

While in college, usually your undergraduate psychology degree, you can do internships, often set up by your school. These are paid or unpaid and give you valuable learning experience and are used as a pathway to a graduate degree. Some programs require one semester, some require three semesters. Depending on where you live, more experience (hours) may be needed for your license, so a program with a longer internship may be best. Therefore, it is a good idea to research your state requirements while you are looking at degree programs.

Residency is a required part of licensure, where you will need to complete 1500 hours of observed psychology work. If your desire is to be a child psychologist, then you should look for residency opportunities in children’s hospitals, at colleges, or other places of business that see children and adolescents. This way, you will gain valuable experience that you can use in the future and complete a requirement for your license.

Step seven: Continuing education

Licensees must complete 40 hours of continuing education every two years. The two-year mark starts the day of your licensing date, and must include some professional ethics courses, cultural competency, and other courses such as pain management and suicide risk assessment.

Step eight: Keep track of your own licensing information

No one cares more about your licensure than you do, so it is recommended that you keep all your licensing information, your hours earned, any examination scores, school transcripts, reference letters, receipts for payment of fees, etc. Keep a file of everything you have completed and store it digitally or in another safe place.

This is a little-known strategy that not many people talk about, but we think it’s important to go over.


How long does it take to become a Child Psychologist?

That depends where you are starting your education, how many credits you have already completed, and what type of psychologist you want to become. Typically, the graduate degree takes about two years to complete, but can be done in as few as 16 months.

If you are starting from zero credits, you will need to earn a bachelor’s degree, which can take 3-5 years depending on the pace of your program and your other responsibilities. Then, adding on the two years of graduate school and a year of residency brings the total time to 6-8 years of schooling and residency before you can become a child psychologist.

Can I Take Practice Exams?

Once you are registered for the EPPP exam, you will gain access to the online practice exams.

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