How to Become a Child Psychologist

As guardians of the mental and behavioral health of the next generation, child psychologists shoulder a heavy burden: They must provide therapeutic intervention and meaningful counsel to children and adolescents.

As experts in child development, they focus on the aftermath of neglect, bullying, and abuse, as well as parental divorce; loss of loved ones; and emotional or behavioral issues, such as low self-esteem and impulsive behavior, to help their patients’ live happier, healthier lives. The job requires dedication, education, and training, as well as the temperament to help children navigate the difficulties of mental health.

A rewarding career as a child psychologist begins with the right education, and with the ease of online learning, you can find a program that’s both flexible and fulfilling.

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How Long Does It Take to Become a Child Psychologist?

Aspiring child psychologists must undergo education and training for nearly a decade before they can attain licensure and certification in the profession. How long it takes to become a child psychologist often depends on the length of the education, which traditionally comes in the form of a four-year bachelor’s degree, usually in psychology, social work, or a related program, before a two-year master’s degree in child and developmental psychology or a related field, although part-time students often take longer.

After completing a master’s degree, students undertake a doctoral program, either a Ph.D. in Psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). The primary difference between the two is that the Ph.D. dedicates more time to research and academics, while the Psy.D. is more focused on hands-on clinical practice.

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Clinical Requirements

Qualifying for licensure as a child psychologist requires hands-on experience. This usually comes in the form of internship training, which exposes students to the day-to-day demands of the job and enables them to shadow active professionals, learning from them in a clinical setting. Internships provide valuable opportunities for students to work and develop skills with patients under a licensed psychologist’s direct supervision. The time commitment for supervised clinical experience varies between programs, ranging from a few hundred to nearly 2,000 hours per year.

Licensure and Certification

The American Board of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (ABCCAP), part of the larger American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), conducts licensing examinations in child psychology. The process involves completing both a general online application and a specialty-specific application.

Licensure is offered to professionals under different criteria, depending on their state of employment. Common prerequisites include a doctoral degree in psychology, completion of the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), completion of the jurisprudence examination, and a set number of hours of supervised experience in a doctoral program internship.

Child Psychologist Skills

Child psychologists must be equipped with many soft and actionable skills to perform effective clinical treatment for their patients.

  • Communication. Child psychologists must be able to communicate treatment plans to patients, set proper expectations for treatment, and actively listen to develop trusting relationships.
  • Strategy. An important skill for all psychologists is the ability to articulate custom treatment plans based on the needs of individual patients. They must also know when to refer patients to other professionals or consult with physicians and other experts.
  • Scientific skills. Child psychologists may be called upon to perform scientific studies of brain functions; research psychological, emotional, and other disorders; identify behavioral patterns;  write articles; and share research findings with peers.
  • Child Psychologist Salary and Job Outlook 

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t have separate statistics for child psychologists, but reports that psychologists in general made a median annual salary of $82,180 as of May 2020. The highest earners in the field made approximately $137,590. Additionally, the BLS provides industry-specific median annual incomes, with psychologists working for the government making a median of $100,360; hospitals, $90,640; ambulatory health care services, $85,970; and elementary/secondary schools, $77,560.

    Positions for psychologists are expected to grow by 8% between 2020 and 2030, the same as the projected average for all occupations. Growth for the period is expected to be slightly higher at 10% for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists.

    Counseling Degrees for Proactive Students

    Mental health issues such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), behavior problems, anxiety, and depression are increasingly affecting children and teens between the ages of 2 and 17. The CDC reports that 9.4% of youths in this age range have received an ADHD diagnosis, and 7.4% of those ages 3 to 7 have been diagnosed with depression. Child psychologists work to help these millions of children every day.

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    Customize your search by selecting programs by state, counseling type, area of study, and online availability, and begin your path to a career in child psychology.

    Sources:
    American Board of Professional Psychology, Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology
    Betterteam, Child Psychologist Job Description
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health
    Houston Chronicle, “What Are the Qualifications, Skills or Aptitudes Needed for a Child Psychologist?”
    U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Psychologists

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