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 schedule.

When children lag behind 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.

What They Do

  • 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. in order 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 in order to prescribe and understand the effects of medications.

Licensing/Certification for Developmental Psychologists

In order to set up a practice, child psychologists have to pass national and state licensing exams in the state in which they want to practice.  Requirements vary, but licensing is required before hanging out 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 have to 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 have to 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 Developmental Psychologists

The Bureau of Labor Statistics 2011 data reports the national median annual salary for the group including child psychologists at $72,310.  Annual salaries range between $39,270 and $109,470.

Management, Scientific and Technical Consulting Services were the highest paying industries with an annual median salary of $102,150.  Salaries can vary with the specialty, work setting and size of the psychologist’s private practice.

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