Childhood is a critical period of development, where foundations for future thought processes, behaviors, and emotional patterns are established. Working with children offers a unique opportunity to witness and understand the evolution of human cognition, emotion, and behavior from its nascent stages. While children often express themselves in endearing and unpredictable ways, their words and actions provide profound insights into the broader facets of human development.
For those intrigued by the complexities of the human mind and its formative years, a career as a child psychologist is a rewarding pathway. This profession transcends the boundaries of regular interaction with children. More than just educators or caregivers, child psychologists delve deeply into understanding the diverse ways children perceive, process, and react to the world.
By assisting children who might experience challenges or think differently and by harnessing the learnings from these young minds, child psychologists contribute significantly to building a more empathetic and informed society. If you're drawn to this intricate dance of nurturing and understanding, then delve further into the world of child and developmental psychology careers.
What Does a Child Psychologist Do?
Child psychologists use their understanding of psychology to work with children and their families. Whether diagnosing a child with ADHD, helping a child work through trauma, or assessing a child’s behavior and capabilities, a child psychologist can help a child live a successful life.
No two child psychologists have the same job and complete the same tasks on the same day. While some psychologists may be completing assessment after assessment to ensure every child in a school district gets the care they need, another child psychologist may be conducting therapy sessions with children in a hospital who have been through trauma. Child psychologists hold similar roles to adult psychologists, but they specialize in children and their thoughts.
If you aspire to be a child psychologist, prepare for an extensive educational journey. Bachelor’s and Master's degree programs in child psychology provide foundational knowledge, and many professionals in the field opt to deepen their expertise with advanced degrees. A Ph.D. in Psychology tends to be research-focused, preparing individuals for careers in academia, research, or clinical practice. On the other hand, a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) is more practice-oriented, emphasizing clinical work and applying psychological principles.
It is important to note that working as a child psychologist with an MA in counseling is a viable option, especially for those looking to enter the field more quickly. Regardless of the chosen educational path, obtaining a license and board certification to practice in your state is necessary. This process involves completing an internship, gaining supervised professional experience, and passing the American Board of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (ABCCAP) exam—a comprehensive test that requires thorough preparation.
Each state has specific licensure requirements, so it’s crucial to research and understand the guidelines in your area. These steps ensure you are well-prepared and qualified to make a meaningful impact in child psychology.
It’s rare to get into child psychology for the salary - while you can make a decent living in child psychology, only a handful will make six figures. Salaries will depend on the company or organization that hires you, your experience, and your job type.
Here is an idea of what you can expect your salary to look like, compiled from a few different sources:
Child Psychologist Reported Salary
Schools for Child Psychology Degrees
Among the numerous institutions in the United States, 35 notable schools offer a bachelor’s degree in child psychology and 48 of these institutions provide more advanced degrees. It's common for these programs to grant a degree in clinical psychology with a specialization or concentration in child psychology. As you delve into this field and explore potential career paths, consider these prominent schools:
- Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN)
- University of Minnesota - Twin Cities (Minneapolis, MN)
- Chestnut Hill College (Philadelphia, PA)
- Texas A&M University (College Station, TX)
- The University of Michigan - Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, MI)
- Southern New Hampshire University (Online)
- Stanford University (Stanford, CA)
- Kent State University (Kent, OH)
- Capella University (Minneapolis, MN)
- Yale University (New Haven, CT)
Companies That Hire Child Psychologists
Many different types of companies and organizations are looking for child psychologists, including:
- Counseling and therapy providers
- Healthcare companies
- Schools and school districts
- Special education providers
- Family services
- State and local governments
- Research universities
The job requirements and daily responsibilities will vary depending on the organization hiring the child psychologist and why they need to fill this position.
Child psychologists may also open up their practice and serve their clients.
Behavior Tech and Behavioral Analysis in Child and Developmental Psychology
In child and developmental psychology, the roles of Behavior Technicians (Behavior Techs) and those specializing in Behavioral Analysis have been gaining prominence. These roles often intersect with the traditional duties of child psychologists but offer unique approaches and specializations. Here's a closer look at what these professions entail:
- Behavior Technicians (Behavior Techs):
- Role & Responsibilities: A Behavior Technician primarily assists in delivering behavior analysis services to children, usually under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). Their main duty is to implement intervention plans designed by the BCBA to help children modify certain behaviors or acquire new skills. This is especially common for children diagnosed with developmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
- Educational Path: While the requirements vary by state and employer, a high school diploma or equivalent is typically the minimum. However, many employers prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree in psychology, education, or a related field. Additionally, a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) certification, which includes training and a national exam, is often required.
- Behavioral Analysis:
- Role & Responsibilities: Professionals in Behavioral Analysis, often BCBAs, design and supervise behavior intervention plans. They conduct assessments to understand a child's behaviors and utilize applied behavior analysis (ABA) principles to create individualized strategies. Their primary goal is to promote positive behaviors and diminish harmful or undesired ones. This approach is especially effective for children with behavioral challenges, learning difficulties, or developmental disorders.
- Educational Path: To become a BCBA, one typically needs a master's or doctoral degree in behavior analysis or a related field. Following this, they must complete supervised practical experience and pass the BCBA certification exam.
Both these roles highlight the significance of behavior-based interventions in child and developmental psychology. While Behavior Techs provide direct, hands-on support to children, those specializing in Behavioral Analysis offer a more analytical and supervisory approach. Both professions aim to improve a child's quality of life by equipping them with the necessary behavioral tools to navigate their environment effectively. These roles offer promising and impactful career paths for those interested in a more applied, hands-on, and behavior-centric approach to child and developmental psychology.
Interviews with a Child Psychologist
Want to hear what being a child psychologist is like, straight from the source? Read this interview with Dr. Rachelle Robinson, a child psychologist specializing in child and family therapy.
You can also find multiple interviews on YouTube, like with Dr. Rebecca Berry.
Want to see a day in the life of a child psychologist? Dr. Ann-Louise T. Lockhart takes you through hers!
This video from the Emory School of Law gives a peek into what you might be learning at school to become a child psychologist. Interviewing children requires a different approach than interviewing adults!
Famous Child Psychologists
Child psychologists become renowned not merely by aiding a handful of children. The most eminent figures in the field have drastically influenced parenting techniques, educational approaches, and our understanding of child development. Their groundbreaking work likely played a part in shaping your own childhood experiences. Delve deeper into their contributions:
- Erik Erikson is celebrated for introducing the Stages of Psychosocial Development, a framework that delineates the eight psychosocial stages individuals navigate from infancy to adulthood. He's also credited with coining the term "identity crisis," highlighting individuals' internal conflict in defining their identities.
- Through her groundbreaking "Strange Situation" studies, Mary Ainsworth deeply explored Attachment Theory. Her research illuminated how early childhood attachments profoundly influence relational patterns and adult emotional health.
- John B. Watson is often recognized as the father of behaviorism. He championed that behaviors are learned through interactions with the environment, setting a foundation for behavioral approaches in child-rearing and education.
- Beyond his diverse contributions to psychology, Arthur Staats introduced the concept of the “time out.” This behavioral intervention technique, now commonly used in child discipline, aims to reduce undesirable behaviors by temporarily removing the child from a reinforcing environment.
- Albert Bandura revolutionized the understanding of social learning with his Bobo doll experiment. Through this study, he illustrated how children emulate behaviors observed in adults, underscoring the significant role modeling plays in child development.
What Can Child Psychologists Do On A Day to Day Basis?
Child psychologists don’t all do the same thing every day. A child psychologist conducting research might have a very different day than someone working with children in a juvenile detention center.
If you become a child psychologist, you might end up with any of these tasks on any given day!
- Sitting down for a therapy session with a client and their parents
- Completing evaluations, administering tests, and diagnosing certain children with mental, emotional, or mood disorders (autism, ADHD, etc.)
- Administering tests to identify which students are gifted
- Developing a treatment plan for one or more children
- Reaching out to parents after noticing a student’s trouble in school
- Researching how children have been affected after certain types of trauma or other experiences