What Is a Child Psychologist?

Overview of a Career as a Child Psychologist

Child psychologist leading a counseling session.
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If you love working with children, then maybe you have also considered a career as a child psychologist. These professionals attend specifically to the psychological concerns of children, making it an exciting career choice for many students interested in child development and mental health.

Before you decide if this career path is the best choice for you, learn more about the job duties, educational requirements and job outlook for child psychologists in this career overview.

What Is a Child Psychologist?

A child psychologist is a type of psychologist who studies the mental, social and emotional development of children. Typically, child psychologists look at development from the prenatal period through adolescence. Some of the major topics of interest in this field of psychology include genetics, language development, personality, gender roles, cognitive development, sexual development and social growth.

Child psychologists may work with a range of clients including infants, toddlers, children, and teens or they may specialize in working with a particular age group. No matter what population a child psychologist chooses, his or her focus will be on helping understand, prevent, diagnose and treat developmental, cognitive, social and emotional issues.

Some related career options include:

  • Abnormal child psychologist work with children suffering from psychological disorders including anxiety, mood and personality disorders.
  • Adolescent psychologist work with adolescent clients between the ages of 12 and 18 who suffer from psychological illness or distress including eating disorders, depression or anxiety.
  • Developmental psychologist may study childhood development, but may also focus on development throughout the entire lifespan.
  • School psychologist work within the educational system to help children with emotional, social and academic issues.
  • Educational psychologist involve the study of how people learn, including topics such as student outcomes, the instructional process, individual differences in learning, gifted learners and learning disabilities.

What Does a Child Psychologist Do?

So what exactly does the average child psychologist do during a typical day? The answer to this question can vary a great deal depending upon exactly where a child psychologist works. Some professionals counsel young clients in therapeutic situations while others work in research to explore different aspects of child psychology including giftedness and development disabilities.

While specific job duties depend on where a child psychologist chooses to specialize, a few of the typical tasks may include:

  • Diagnosing and treating learning or developmental disabilities
  • Working with clients to manage behavioral issues
  • Administering psychological tests
  • Conducting scientific research on childhood development
  • Working with a healthcare team to create a unique treatment plan for a client

Educational Requirements to Become a Child Psychologist

While there are some opportunities in the field of child psychology with a master's degree, most people will find that job options are more plentiful at the doctoral-level. There are some programs that offer a degree in child psychology, but many choose to earn a Ph.D. or PsyD degree in either clinical or counseling psychology.

The American Psychological Association reports that nearly 75 percent of all doctorate psychology degrees are Ph.D.’s, but the PsyD is becoming an increasingly popular option for those interested more in professional practice rather than research. 

After earning a degree, child psychologists must complete a supervised clinical internship that usually lasts two years and then pass state and national tests in order to become licensed in the state they wish to work. For this reason, it is important to check with your state to determine the licensing requirements.

Where Does a Child Psychologist Work and What Are Some Typical Job Duties?

Child psychologists may be employed in a variety of settings including schools, courts, hospitals and mental health clinics. Those employed in school settings often diagnose learning disorders, counsel students, conduct assessments and work with families to help students cope with academic problems, social issues or disabilities. Some individuals may work in court settings to help young clients who have come into contact with the criminal justice system, help prepare children to testify in court or work with children in the middle of child custody disputes.

Child psychologists who work in hospitals or private mental health offices often work directly with clients and families to overcome or cope with psychological illnesses. These professionals evaluate clients, diagnose mental disorders, administer psychological tests and conduct therapy sessions among other things.

How Is the Job Outlook for Child Psychologists?

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Department of Labor, the job outlook for psychologists is expected to grow as fast as the average rate through the year 2018. Job prospects are expected to be the strongest for those who hold a doctorate degree in an applied specialty area. The increased awareness of child mental health should also help spur the demand for child psychologists.

How Much Does a Child Psychologist Earn?

Salaries for child psychologists can vary based upon geographic location, the sector of employment, educational background and years of experience in the field. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that the median salary for child psychologists is just over $64,000 a year, with salaries ranging from a low of $37,900 to a high of almost $150,000.

A Word From Verywell

Before you decide if a career as a child psychologist is right for you, spend some time considering the potential benefits and drawbacks of this profession. Assess your own interests and goals, and then consider how becoming a child psychologist might help you achieve your professional and personal aims.

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View Article Sources
  • Sternberg, RJ. Career Paths in Psychology: Where Your Degree Can Take You. American Psychological Association; 2016.