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What is a PsyD in Child Psychology?

Children are our future. It’s a phrase we hear often enough, but how often do we stop to think about it?

Well, if you’re a child psychologist, then the answer is probably pretty often. The proper mental, emotional and social development of children is just as important as their physiological development, and if it goes awry, it can have long-lasting or even lifelong consequences for the child. Sometimes this occurs because of the child’s environment; sometimes genetic factors are at play; sometimes a traumatic incident has changed how the child sees the world. Whatever the case, they need help correcting their perceptions, self-worth and responses to their surroundings.

That’s where child psychologists come in. These professionals work one-on-one or in groups with kids to help them understand and react to their environments in healthy and developmentally appropriate ways. If you think you would enjoy a career geared toward children, a PsyD or Doctor of Psychology in Child Psychology is the way to go.

Before diving in, though, it helps to understand the rigors of the discipline, the requirements of the program and the follow-up tasks you will need to complete to work in the field. You’ll also learn about the job outlook and further resources, so read on.

What Is Child Psychology?

Verwell defines child psychology as the “particular branch [that] focuses on the mind and behavior of children from prenatal development through adolescence. Child psychology deals not only with how children grow physically, but with their mental, emotional, and social development as well.”

For many years, no one thought to give children their own branch of psychology. Says Verywell: “Historically, children were often viewed simply as smaller versions of adults. When Jean Piaget suggested that children actually think differently than adults, Albert Einstein proclaimed that the discovery was ‘so simple that only a genius could have thought of it.’”

Thinking differently is the root of child psychology. In essence, because children’s brains are still developing, they perceive the world in different ways. That means they also process their experiences differently than adults would, which in turn makes it impossible – or at least unproductive – to apply the same principles of psychology to them as one would to adults.

The importance of child psychology rests in the fact that childhood has such repercussions for later life. Children who have experienced trauma often develop coping mechanisms that turn out to be maladaptive in later life. Abuse, neglect, divorce and loss can change a child for the worse, and if they don’t get help processing their experiences (and getting out of situations that cause them), then they have little chance of moving on healthily.

That’s where child psychologists come in.

What Does a Child Psychologist Do?

A child psychologist’s job is to work with a child or groups of children who suffer from the same experiences to help them adjust negative behaviors and thinking in favor of more positive ones. For instance, a psychologist might help a child see that abuse or loss (such as a divorce) was not their fault. Their duties might also include:

  • Evaluating children for various disorders
  • Speaking to the child to form a picture of their past experiences
  • Running and interpreting diagnostics to learn more about the child’s mental, emotional and social development
  • Helping children recognize what they’re thinking and feeling, then recognizing which patterns of thought or action are harmful to them
  • Identifying and substituting better behaviors in their place
  • Helping children cope with the stresses of transition: divorce, death, school, family
  • Working with children who are taken from their parents and put into a foster system
  • Helping children cope with severe mental illness
  • Designing IEP, or Individualized Education Programs, to keep benefit the learning process and address school problems
  • Liaising with parents, teachers, school counselors, medical staff and caregivers to develop the most appropriate treatment plans

It’s important to note that not all children have to experience traumatic circumstances in order to benefit from psychology. Some children suffer from disorders that arise “naturally,” such as autism, which may be a result of genetics, diet of the mother or the environment – scientists don’t really know. Other children may have learning disorders that places pressure on them in school, and need help working that out.

Whatever your interest area, you will need a degree to help you get there, and the PsyD is a perfect option for many who want to reach the pinnacle of their careers.

What Is a PsyD in Child Psychology?

The PsyD degree is terminal, which means that there are no other degrees to earn beyond it. It is important to distinguish this from the PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy. The latter is designed to train candidates in the design and application of research studies, in teaching and otherwise in the realm of academia. While PhD in Psychology candidates often undergo clinical hours, their main goal is to add to the body of knowledge in the psychological field.

The PsyD, on the other hand, is designed for those who want to work in the field. With this degree, you can work with children or groups of children in a wide range of settings. You can also train incoming child psychologists, advise institutions and write up methods you use. It’s a very hands-on role, perfect for those who like to be surrounded by people every day.

How Do You Apply to a Program?

The requirements for applying to a PsyD in Child Psychology program differ from school to school. It’s critical that you check these requirements with each prospective school well ahead of time so that you don’t miss any deadlines. If you are confused, speak with the admissions department.

SEE ALSO: Top 5 Online PsyD in Clinical Psychology Programs

Typically, however, an application will contain the following elements:

  • Transcripts from all previous institutions of higher learning, even if the degrees aren’t relevant to your current interests
  • A latter of intent or essay demonstrating your intelligence, writing ability and suitability for the program
  • Test scores, usually the GRE, which you may not have to retake if you have scores from the last 5 years
  • Letters of recommendation from supervisors or past professors
  • Proof of prerequisites, which are usually very specific for terminal degree programs

What Are the Exam and Licensing Requirements?

In order to work with patients, you must hold a license. First, that means taking the EPPP, a nationwide exam that assesses readiness for psychological practice. It is accepted in all 50 states and is required before you can apply for a license. Once you have passed and have earned the requisite number of clinical hours in your program, you can apply for the license. Unlike the exam, this differs by state. Look into the requirements for your area before applying, in order to learn the specific requirements, which often include supervised practice hours after graduation.

SEE ALSO: PsyD vs Ph.D. Psychology Requirements

Job Outlook for Child Psychologists with a PsyD

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, clinical, counseling and school psychologists can expect to make an average of $81,330 or $39.10 per hour. Note that this figure includes people who have just started their careers and those who only possess a master’s degree. That means that if you earn a terminal degree and continue to work in the field for years or decades, you can easily expect to make six figures, and often multiple six figures.

SEE ALSO: Online PsyD Degree Programs

The job outlook is good as well. Psychologists as a whole are seeing projected job growth at a rate of 14 percent between 2016 and 2026. The takeaway: If you graduate from a child psychology program in good standing, pass the exam and get your license, you are very likely to find a good job. That’s especially true with a terminal degree, enabling you to take on high-level roles in a variety of institutions. In other words, there’s no reason to wait.

Further Resources for Child Psychology Candidates

As a candidate or a student in the field of child psychology, it helps to have a thorough understanding of the discipline. These resources will help you develop it.

  • Glossary of Child and Adolescent Mental Health: Stanford Children’s Health provides one of the most complete glossaries on the web when it comes to developmental health. Make sure to bookmark this one on your browser bar!
  • Introduction to Child Psychology: The Open University offers a full overview of child psychology, from theories to application. This is a great resource to explore now as you try to decide whether this program is for you, but will also help compound your foundational understanding once in a program.
  • Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology: This division of the American Psychological Association is geared specifically to those who want to work with youth. It offers a raft of links to career opportunities, forums, student resources and more. Another one to add to your browser bar.

With these resources in hand, you’ll have no trouble keeping up with a child psychology program. Now the only task in front of you is to make a decision, start applying to programs and begin your career today!

NARROW YOUR PROGRAM SEARCH

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.