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How to Become a Child Psychologist

Children are one of the most vulnerable populations in the world today. From developing countries to developed, children are too frequently abused, neglected, orphaned or otherwise traumatized. Even in strong, stable family homes, children may be born with inherited mental health issues. They may face issues in school or deal with learning disabilities, get bullied or fail to see eye to eye with their parents. In other words, there exist innumerable reasons a child might need psychology.

If you are interested in working with children as a population, then a degree in child psychology is a smart move. Some psychologists get a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) before starting their careers, while others find that a master’s degree is sufficient to meet the demands of the profession. Before you can decide, it is helpful to understand the discipline and what it takes to begin practicing.

Below, you can read about the field, educational degrees, and programs, licensing and job outlook. Don’t wait any longer to begin your psychology journey.

What is Child Psychology?

“This particular branch focuses on the mind and behavior of children from prenatal development through adolescence,” explains Verywell Mind. “Child psychology deals not only with how children grow physically, but with their mental, emotional, and social development as well.”

The American Psychological Association (APA) adds that “Of particular importance to the specialty of clinical child psychology is an understanding of the basic psychological needs of children and adolescents, and how the family and other social contexts influence the socio-emotional adjustment, cognitive development, behavioral adaptation and health status of children and adolescents.”

What Does a Child Psychologist Do?

Children, unfortunately, face just as many emotional, mental and social problems as adults do – though they are far less equipped to deal with them. These issues include:

  • Trauma from abuse, neglect or injury
  • Loss of caregivers, parents or other important people
  • Health-related issues, such as congenital disorders
  • Emotional and developmental delays
  • Cognitive or mental deficiencies
  • Learning disabilities (which is not the same as the above)
  • Stress and anxiety related to coping with school or life
  • Problems with their peers
  • Severe mental disorders, such as schizophrenia

In order to help their patients develop properly, find equilibrium despite emotional drawbacks and face their traumas in a healthy way, child psychologists use a range of approaches. These depend largely on the age of the child in question, as obviously a toddler requires a different approach than a high schooler does. Broadly speaking, though, child psychologists must learn to provide the following:

  • Assessment of the child’s current situation and needs on a mental, emotional, social and physical plane
  • Interventions based on those needs, including counseling techniques, school intervention and liaising with other members of psychological or medical teams
  • Prevention programs that help high-risk youth steer clear of substances or harmful behavior and help younger children keep up with school demands despite setbacks in their personal life
  • Design, utilization, creation, and publishing of research

To fulfill these duties, child psychologists must also learn to develop a bedside manner. Without a nurturing approach, which children need even under the best of circumstances (and desperately crave under the worst), they are unlikely to break through to children who are suffering. That’s where an educational program comes in.

What Is the Child Psychologist Job Outlook?

The outlook for child psychologists is positive. The average income for a practicing psychologist in the school, counseling or clinical niche is $39.10 an hour or $81,330 per year. Those in the 90th percentile can expect to make $123,920, which means with time and dedication, you’ll have no trouble hitting the six-figure mark in your career.

The job growth is positive as well. Psychologists, in general, are seeing a projected job growth of 14 percent between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than growth in the average sector. With increasing population figures, including children, this only makes sense – and means you’ll have little trouble finding a job upon graduation.

What Is a Program in Child Psychology Like?

To become a child psychologist, you have two main educational destinations: the master’s degree and the doctorate. In many places in the United States, a master’s degree is enough to practice child psychology. However, there are other jurisdictions or organizations that prefer its psychologists to have a doctorate. Even if one is not required, you may find yourself better equipped to practice, and will almost certainly command a higher salary, if you have a doctoral degree.

SEE ALSO: Top 5 Online Educational Psychology Ph.D. Programs

If you do choose a doctorate, there are two main choices: The Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., and the Doctor of Psychology, or PsyD. The main distinction between these two is that the Ph.D. is meant for those who want to spend their careers in academia. When earning a Ph.D., you will spend lots of time researching and writing, teaching the classroom, participating in labs and learning to generate funding and more.

SEE ALSO: What is Difference Ph.D. vs PsyD of Psychology?

With a PsyD, you will also learn to do many of these tasks. However, you will focus on clinical interactions with patients more than anything else. Your goal with a PsyD is to prepare yourself for quality, treatment-oriented, one-on-one work with children, and your schooling will be focused accordingly.

What Will Child Psychology Coursework Focus On?

Every program is different, depending on the school, degree type, and focus area. Overall, though, a program in child psychology will focus on the following subjects:

  • Psychological principles and foundations
  • Treatment methods old and new
  • Developmental psychology
  • Family dynamics
  • Ethics and legal principles
  • Cognitive, social and emotional aspects of psychology
  • Neuroscience

If you’d like to learn more specific information about the program you might enter, you can always ask the admissions departments at the prospective schools to which you are applying.

How Do You Get a Child Psychologist License?

Once you’ve graduated from your program, it’s time to get a license before you can practice. All 50 United States require that psychology candidates who wish to obtain a license must take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), in addition to proving a specific number of clinical hours during your program. Some states or organizations will require a certain number of post-graduation supervised hours as well.

Look into the requirements of your state before making your plans; if you intend to practice in another state, make sure to look up those requirements well before graduation so that you can prepare for them accurately.

Now that you have a better understanding of what is required to become a child psychologist, hopefully, you can begin your journey today. Please feel free to ask us questions at any time!

References

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Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Editor-In-Chief

Ann Steele, Ph.D., is Editor-In-Chief of PsydPrograms.org. Ann has training as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who has worked with adults, couples, adolescents, and preteens throughout San Diego county.