How to Start a Career as a Child Psychologist
What Is Childhood Psychology?
A person's childhood is often a very simple yet complicated time. It is also a very influential time in a person's life, and most people's childhoods will have a big impact on the type of adult they turn out to be later in life.
Childhood psychology is a specialized branch of traditional psychology that focuses on children, mainly their development and behavior. It is one of the most commonly studied types of psychology today. This type of psychology typically covers every child, from birth to adolescence. Some areas covered under childhood psychology include milestones, behavior problems, social skills, mental and emotional well being and development.
Centuries ago, childhood psychology wasn't even thought of. It is commonly believed that children during Medieval times, for instance, were viewed as nothing more than small versions of adults. They were dressed the same and often treated the same as the typical adult.
Shortly thereafter, original sin was the most common belief. This school of thought stated that children were born basically as purely evil beings. The purpose of a child's upbringing was to rid him of sin.
John Locke, a philosopher, helped changed this outlook toward the end of the 17th century. It was lock who developed the tabula rasa, or "blank tablet", theory regarding children. This theory stated that upon birth, a child's mind was nothing more than a blank tablet. All of a person's knowledge and behavior tendencies were then created by what was fed into his mind as a child.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a philosopher in the 18th century, most famous for his "innate goodness" theory. This theory suggested that when a child was born, he was not evil or blank, but inherently good. Rousseau also suggested that it was the evils encountered in society that made children misbehave or grow up to be less than stellar adults.
Today, the debate about whether children are born good, bad, or indifferent is still something of a minor debate for some. What we do realize, however, is that childhood is a very influential time in a person's life. Events that happen in a person's childhood - even small, seemingly insignificant events - usually have a direct impact on how that person feels and acts as an adult.
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Some Influential Child Psychologists Throughout History
- Sigmund Freud- Developed the theory of the five developmental stages of humans, four of which occur during childhood.
- Anna Freud- Made significant contributions to the area of psychoanalytic child psychology.
- Jean Piaget- Developed a theory of cognitive development that placed an emphasis on a child's education.
- John Bowlby- Originated "attachment theory", which makes it easier to understand long term relationships between humans.
How Do I Become a Child Psychologist?
|School Programs||Average Education Length||Choosing Online or Campus|
|1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree||View Programs||4 Years||Online or Campus|
|2. Earn A Master's Degree||View Programs||2 Additional Years||Online or Campus|
|3. Earn a PHD or PsyD||View Programs||2-4 Additional Years||Online or Campus|
Learn more about child psychology degrees.
What Does a Child Psychologist Do?
In general, a childhood psychologist might work with children and their primary caregivers in order to research, assess, and possibly treat developmental issues. Depending on his preferred area of study, a child psychologist will often work with all sorts of children.
Not every child that a child psychologist works with is considered to be abnormal. A child psychologist might work with so-called "normal" children for several reasons. He may perform a psychological examination, for instance, or just be a sounding board for a slightly troubled child.
A child psychologist might also work with children who are considered to have slight mental, emotional, or social problems. This can include things like anxiety or shyness.
Child psychologists might also work with children who have severe mental, emotional, or social problems as well. Violent children, autistic children, and those who have been abused, for instance, will often benefit from the help of a child psychologist.
No matter what type of patient that a child psychologist chooses to work with, he must always deal with them carefully and handle them with "kid gloves", so to speak. As mentioned above, childhood is a very influential time in a person's life. A child psychologist should be compassionate, understanding, and patient when dealing with children.
What Types of Treatments Do Child Psychologists Use?
A child psychologist will often use a variety of treatment method, many of which are similar to the treatment methods used with adults. Therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, for instance, is often a popular form of treatment. This type of treatment often involves helping a child learn to solve his problems in a healthy and productive manner.
However - children being children - usually have different needs than adults, and a child psychologists treatment methods should accommodate these needs. For example, may children are easily bored, making traditional treatment options somewhat difficult. To overcome this obstacle, a child psychologist must make interactions with his patients fun and entertaining whenever possible. Many child psychologists will provide fun activities for their young patients, such as coloring books and toys. Many of these activities are used during play therapy.
Where Do Child Psychologists Work?
There is a high demand for licensed child psychologists, and these professionals will often have very little trouble finding employment.
Many organizations that regularly deal with children typically hire child psychologists. This can include schools, orphanages, and child welfare offices. Health oriented organizations might also hire child psychologists. This can include hospitals and mental health clinics.
In addition to working for others, a person interested in a child psychologist career can also usually choose to open his own practice, which allows him more time to focus on each patient.
What Is the Median Salary of a Child Psychologist?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), clinical and counseling psychologists earn a median salary of $90,130 as of May 2022. Their school psychologist colleagues bring home a median wage of $81,500. Though the BLS doesn’t track data for child psychologists specifically, these numbers may be helpful when planning your career.
Here are the median wages for clinical psychology professionals in industries where child psychologists often work:
- Child care services: $62,830
- Elementary and secondary schools: $82,120
- Offices of mental health practitioners: $90,270
- Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals: $101,030
- Hospitals: $101,490
- Educational support services: $121,270
Interested in becoming a child psychologist? Learn which psychology degree path is right for you.
Employment Outlook & Career Guidance for Child Psychologists
Child psychologists are often associated with working in the educational system to assist children with emotional, social and academic issues. However, the career field allows graduates and professionals to seek employment within a wide range of job settings that deal with infants, toddlers, and teenagers. There are plenty of positions and opportunities to develop a child psychology career that incorporate the knowledge, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of developmental, cognitive, social, and emotional issues of today's youths. Learn more about careers in child psychology.
What Type of Positions Can a Child Psychologist Hold?
Mostly known for holding positions in schools, child psychologists encounter employment options spanning a variety of clinical and wide-ranging academic settings.
Specific career paths that a child psychologist may take include:
- Working with children suffering from psychological disorders (such as anxiety, mood and personality disorders), as an abnormal child psychologist.
- Opening a private practice serving a specific age group, such as the adolescent psychologist who typically deals with clients between the ages of 12 and 18.
- Pursuing a career related to childhood development, and focus on the mental growth of children.
- Using a clinical degree to work in an outpatient clinic, and treating children suffering from psychological difficulties or health problems.
- Focusing on influencing policy development at the federal level by sharing knowledge and ideas for solutions related to social problems that affect children.
Assuming a position within a private school to create programs that promote the success of students, as well as to provide individual counseling.
"Working in the schools has its benefits including competitive starting salaries, good health and retirement benefits, and having weekends and holidays off."
– Dr. Thomas Massarelli, Director of the School and Community Psychology Program at Seton Hall University
Any organization or service that deals with children and adolescents may hire the services of a child psychologist; career opportunities are also found in the following settings:
- Legal Setting: Within the legal system, child psychologists assess young victims of a crime; work with youthful offenders at juvenile detention center; perform court-appointed assessments; help young witnesses to a crime prepare for testifying in court; get involved during and after the proceedings of a custody dispute; and also help explain to authorities why a young perpetrator may have committed a crime.
- Mental Health Care Setting: Mental health organizations that provide counseling to children need child psychologists to work with youths, as well as with families to help ease issues that affect a child, such as abuse, neglect, social skills development, divorce, mental illness, school issues, and addiction.
- Hospital Setting: A children's hospital (or any other hospital that has children as patients) turn to child psychologists to help youths cope with an illness, or when a family member is sick. Child psychologists also work with patients with traumatic brain injury, neuromotor disorders, and developmental disabilities.
- Research Setting: Child psychologists may conduct research which leads to gaining a better understanding on how children develop, and cope with a range of issues and problems. Research topics include cognitive development, learning disabilities, school dropout prevention, learning theory, and the effects of drug and alcohol abuse on children.
"[Child psychologists] can opt for a research position, a teaching position, or a combined position in universities."
– Laura E. Brumariu, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at Adelphi University, Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies
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Read about degrees in child psychology.
Ways for Child Psychologists to Increase Desirability as a Job Candidate
According to Massarelli, the most important way a child psychologist can increase his or her desirability as a job applicant is to reach out to professional organizations through journals and magazines, such as the APA Monitor or the NASP Communiqué. Employment leads are also found when a child psychologist becomes involved with state and local organizations.
"It is important that a curriculum vita is prepared by the applicant indicating his/her education, professional activities and references."
– Dr. Thomas Massarelli
Attributes That Employers Often Look for When Hiring a Child Psychologist
- A familiarity with different treatment techniques, such as play, art or music therapy.
- Good interpersonal skills and the innate knack for making children feel at ease.
- A good sense of humor that conveys approachability.
- Compassion, understanding, and patience towards children.
- The ability to relate to young patients without "talking down" to them.
- An active listener who is open to working with a child to arrive at possible solutions to problems.
"Most important is to be passionate about what one is doing and choosing a specialty that one loves. That will help [a child psychologist] excel in that particular area, and be desirable as a job applicant."
– Laura E. Brumariu, Ph.D.
Ways for a Child Psychologist to Increase His/Her Salary
An employed child psychologist who continues to pursue extensive training and education increases his or her chances of earning a promotion or qualifying for a higher position. Child psychologists with a doctorate degree earn more money than a counselor with a master's degree; Massarelli says the higher the degree usually means the more money one makes.
Massarelli also suggests another way a child psychologist can increase his or her salary is by being the best in a particular area of psychology – especially where there is a demand for that service. Those who specialize in the treatment of certain disorders or conditions tend to make more money than a general practitioner who addresses a wider range of disorders.
"Word of mouth is an excellent way one can market oneself and increase one's salary over time."
– Dr. Thomas Massarelli
Private practice child psychologists additionally face the potential of making more money than those with a fixed pay scale who are employed in the school system or with another organization. A private practice allows psychologists to choose how many clients are seen, and set their own fees for their counseling and/or therapy services.
However, a factor to consider is job stability. The amount of money earned can change on a weekly basis, and the possibility of losing clients for unforeseen reasons can occur – all of which can lead to an overall decreased salary in some cases.
Networking Opportunities and Organizations for Child Psychologists
"Emailing individuals is by far the most common way to communicate with colleagues; however, through LinkedIn and other Internet media sites, professionals from all over the country and outside the country can communicate with each other."
– Dr. Thomas Massarelli
Social media and online interaction provides a wealth of networking opportunities for child psychologists. According to Massarelli, another helpful resource is ListServ, an email discussion group that facilitates communication between professionals in various fields, including psychology.
Attending a conference connects child psychologists with others in the field, and provides an entryway for collaboration and the exchange of ideas to take place. Brumariu notes that working on papers together, consulting, speaking with others, and participating in intellectual exchanges regarding topics of interests, are all worthy ways to network with other professionals.
Joining a professional organization also provides networking opportunities for child psychologists.
A few to note include:
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology
- National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
- American Psychological Association (APA)
- American Counseling Association (ACA)
Child Psychology Continuing Education (CE) Sources
In addition to state-approved CE programs for psychologists, the APA provides continuing education programs for child psychologists. Opportunities to develop on a professional level include earning continuing education credits in topics such as Bipolar Disorder in Children and Adolescents; Violence Against Women and Children; and Social Anxiety in Adolescents and Young Adults.
Featured Child Psychology Expert Interview: Dr. Rachelle Robinson
2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics job market trends and salary figures for clinical and counseling psychologists and school psychologists are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed June 2023.