How to Become a Child Psychologist in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for child psychologists. Get the facts about education, salary, licensure requirements and job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Child Psychology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Child Psychologist Do?

Child psychologists provide mental health services to toddlers, children and adolescents in need. They conduct scientific studies, observe and talk with patients, research behavioral and emotional patterns, make diagnoses and plan for treatment. Throughout the meetings and observations, psychologists try to understand what the patient is feeling and look for patterns in the behavior. Many child psychologists also write articles and research papers to help other medical professionals.

The following chart provides an overview about a career in child psychology.

Degree Required Master's or doctoral degree
Education Field of Study Psychology
Licensure or Certification All states require psychologists to be licensed; board certification in psychology is available
Job Duties Use psychological principles to treat children's developmental or behavioral issues; provide counseling to children and families; evaluate, diagnose and treat children's emotional and mental health problems
Job Growth (2014-2024) 20% increase (for all clinical, counseling and school psychologists)*
Median Salary (2015) $70,580 (for all clinical, counseling and school psychologists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Is a Child Psychologist?

Child psychologists study developmental behavior in children through research in physical, cognitive, emotional and social aspects of growth. As a child psychologist, you'll focus on preventing, diagnosing, treating and understanding children's psychological, emotional, developmental, behavioral and cognitive issues. Your duties will be to observe, interview and perform clinical studies and surveys to develop treatment plans for patients.

Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree in Psychology

Completion of a bachelor's degree program in psychology allows you to prepare for a doctoral program and build a foundation of skills that you will use the rest of your career. Topics covered in a bachelor's-level program include cultural diversity, communications, ethics and fundamentals of psychology. For some positions with the federal government, a bachelor's degree is the minimum education requirement.

Step 2: Earn a Graduate Degree in Psychology

A master's or doctoral degree in psychology is typically required to work as a child psychologist. To work in your own practice, you will usually be required by licensing regulations to hold a doctorate. In graduate degree programs, a focus is usually put on advanced coursework in psychological theories and research. Programs may require a special project or thesis, which involves heavy research and study in a particular topic or area of psychology. This is typically where you will be able to focus your studies on child psychology.

Step 3: Complete Two Years of a Supervised Internship

Many graduate programs, specifically doctorate programs, require a supervised internship. A supervising child psychologist will determine your knowledge and work quality before approving the completion of your internship. Practical experience, such as through an internship, is often required for licensing or board certification.

Step 4: Obtain a State License

All states require a license to practice psychology. The general requirements for licensing usually include holding a specific degree, having practical experience in the field and completing a written exam. Many states use the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology exam, administered through the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

Step 5: Become Board-Certified

The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers you the chance to become a board-certified psychologist. To become board-certified, you need to meet education and experience requirements and complete an examination. Part of the application process to become board-certified involves submitting practice samples, which will be reviewed by the ABPP. Once you have been accepted as a candidate for board certification based on the information presented to the board during the application process, you can sit for the exam.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If a child psychologist isn't what you wish to become, there are other related career options you can choose from. A mental health counselor helps patients of all ages work on their mental and emotional disorders. This career option requires a master's degree. Another option is physician or surgeon. These both require a doctoral degree. After examining patients, they diagnose the problem and treat the injury or illness either through prescribing medication or performing surgery.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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