How To Become a Child Psychologist (Plus Specialisations)
Updated 21 June 2023
The field of child psychology can be a good career path for those who like to interact with children and are interested in mental health. Mental disorders, cognitive issues and behavioural problems affect children and can be treated with counselling and individualised treatment. As a child psychologist, you can help children and adolescents with the issues impacting their daily life. In this article, we discuss what a child psychologist does, explain how to become a child psychologist and list the types of psychology you may pursue in this field.
How to become a child psychologist
Follow these steps if you want to learn how to become a child psychologist:
1. Finish a related bachelor's degree program
There are not undergraduate programmes for child psychology, but you can earn a bachelor's in psychology or counselling. While at university, you can develop communication skills, research and assessment skills. A degree in general psychology provides lab experience and an overview of disorders you may treat. If you choose a counselling programme, your courses may focus on development and social behaviours.
After earning a bachelor's, you can continue your education in order to specialise. To gain admittance to a graduate school, you may need these courses:
child and adolescent psychopathology
theories of personality
trauma and crisis
2. Enrol in a graduate program
To specialise in child psychology, you need a master's or doctorate degree. Earning a master's degree allows you to work as a mental health counsellor, but you cannot conduct psychological testing. You must earn a PhD in order to work as a licenced psychologist.
Master's degrees involve one to two years of full-time coursework. You have the option of pursuing a Master of Science or a Master of Arts. If you want to work in research mainly, then a Master of Science degree may suit you well. A doctoral programme requires three to six years and focuses on child development and clinical child psychology.
3. Complete an internship or practicum
Graduate programmes often require the completion of an internship. This is hands-on clinical practice under the supervision of a licenced child psychologist. An internship helps you apply your knowledge and gives you experience creating treatment plans and assessing patients.
A benefit of internships is that they help you network with professionals. Working with a psychologist may help you gain employment in that clinic after graduation.
4. Apply for a license
After completing an internship and earning your doctorate in child psychology, you may apply for a license. Your licensure designates you as either a clinical psychologist or a licensed psychologist. The board at the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP) administers an exam and awards you with a license after you pass.
Rules regarding practise and licensure can differ depending on your location, so consult the requirements in the city where you work to learn about renewing your license.
5. Apply for child psychologist jobs
Child psychologists can work in schools, research centres, clinics and hospitals. Consider your specialisation when applying to organisations. For example, if your speciality is in education child psychology, you may look in schools for job opportunities. Search job boards and reach out to your professional network to find opportunities.
Creating an impressive CV is an important step in finding employment. Ensure that you list your education, credentials and relevant skills and experience. Consider opportunities where you can volunteer and gain more experience to boost your CV. Experience working with children in a community centre is useful, or any experience in mental health is also valuable.
What does a child psychologist do?
Child psychologists evaluate and treat the mental health needs of children and adolescents. They help children cope with situations like family transitions, divorce, moving to another school and grief. Typically, a child psychologist treats children with learning disabilities or developmental issues. Here are common disorders a child psychologist may treat:
autism spectrum disorder
A child psychologist assesses the complex symptoms a young patient may have and then arrives at the best diagnosis. More than many other mental health professionals, child psychologists have expertise in performing psychological tests. Other job duties include:
developing treatment plans for individual patients
educating family members on how to treat or make accommodations for their child
documenting progress and keeping records of treatment
collaborating with paediatricians, teachers, parents and other psychologists to determine the best care for a child
Types of child psychologists
If you choose to study child psychology, you can choose to further specialise. There are several fields where you can use your psychology doctorate, including:
Education child psychologists focus on improving the teaching and learning processes in schools by suggesting changes to classes and curriculum that most appropriately address the needs for the psychological health of children. They also counsel children and provide parents and guardians with resources to help children overcome issues such as bullying. Some positions in this area are:
educational design consultant
programme assessment specialist
programme implementation coordinator
Clinical child psychology
Clinical child psychologists work with children by assessing, diagnosing and treating children and adolescents with psychological or developmental disorders, and they conduct academic and scientific research. Most often, these psychologists work in hospitals or private practises. Some positions in this area are:
licensed child psychologist
clinical child therapist
Adolescent psychologists work with pre-teen and teenage patients through psychotherapy and by creating a structure of behaviour modifications and therapeutic methods, with constant contact with parents and the patients' other supporters. They commonly treat mental disorders such as depression, which is more common among adolescents. Some positions in this area are:
licensed counselling psychologist
School psychologists address children's mental health needs in a school or educational environment and decide if a child is eligible for government-sponsored programmes. A school psychologist provides counselling and may help teachers better accommodate students in the classroom. Some positions in this area are:
certified school psychologist
Developmental child psychology
Developmental child psychologists aim to gain a better understanding of children's behaviour through research. Many of these psychologists work in research centres, but some work in clinics with children as well. Some positions in this area are:
developmental child psychology professor
Abnormal child psychology
Abnormal child psychologists treat atypical issues children have because of physical abuse, emotional abuse or some other trauma. They sometimes work with young clients into their adulthood. Some positions in this area are:
abnormal child psychology professor
behavioural health professional
mental health professional
What is the average salary for child psychologists?
Your salary depends on where you work and the field of psychology in which you specialise. For example, a clinical psychologist can earn an average salary of £47,786 per year. A school psychologist earns an average salary of £22,800 per year. A general psychologist earns an average salary of £34,265 per year.
Typically, you can earn more when you gain experience and work in heavily populated areas.
What is the work environment like?
The work environment of a child psychologist is very collaborative, as they often work with a team of medical professionals and adults associated with a patient, such as parents and teachers. They also work indoors and full-time hours. A child psychologist may work in a variety of settings; here are the most common:
Schools are a common location for child psychologists to work. Psychologists in schools counsel children provide with emotional, social or behavioural problems. They also may assess and diagnose children with learning disabilities and provide parents and teachers with methods to accommodate the child. Working in a school also allows psychologists to promote healthy communication and social skills for students as they develop.
Related: What Is Counselling Psychology?
Many child psychologists work in research facilities. As a research child psychologist, you may conduct research to learn about the cognitive, behavioural, or emotional issues that affect children. Many professionals in this field publish papers or books about bullying, family issues, developmental disorders or the impact of grief on children to help educators, guardians, and children overcome these types of problems.
Private practice is a clinical setting where child psychologists assess and diagnose children and adolescents. Some private practices specialise only in treating children, but you may also work in a practice that treats adults as well. Working in a clinical environment involves administering and interpreting psychological tests to diagnose children. Most often, tests include personality and neuropsychological tests. You might also provide counselling.
You can also work in a hospital. Typically, patients for child psychologists in hospitals get referrals from their schools or are determined to be at risk. You may commonly treat children with mental health disorders and children with brain disorders such as tumours or epilepsy.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
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