Child Psychology Degrees & Careers How to Become a Child Psychologist

Updated February 28, 2023

People of all ages can benefit from the support of a mental health professional. Learn how to become a child psychologist and make a difference in children's lives.

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Child psychologists work with children to diagnose and treat various developmental, behavioral, and mental disorders. To become a child psychologist, candidates need a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in psychology or a related field. This means they must complete a four-year bachelor's degree and then matriculate into a doctoral program that takes 5-7 years. Doctoral programs explore theoretical and clinical perspectives through a combination of coursework, field practicums, and research.

Child psychologists also need state licensure. While requirements vary by state, students must typically pass the National Psychology Licensing Exam and complete two years of supervised clinical or counseling experience.

Child psychologists are sometimes called developmental psychologists. While developmental psychology refers to the study of cognitive and behavioral processes that occur throughout the lifespan, many developmental psychologists focus on children and adolescents. A child psychology career overlaps with other positions, including mental health counselor, school psychologist, clinical psychologist, and social worker.

Mental health counselors diagnose and treat mental health issues while school psychologists work with students to address behavioral or emotional problems affecting their learning. Clinical psychologists treat emotional and behavioral disorders while social workers help individuals in need identify their problems and how to resolve them. If these professionals specialized in working with children, they would fulfill many of the functions of a child psychologist.

Read on to explore child psychology education requirements and learn how to become a child psychologist.

What Does a Child Psychologist Do?

Child Psychology Career Basics

Child psychologists work with children struggling with mental, emotional, or behavioral health disorders, such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, and autism. They may also treat children who have experienced trauma or are struggling with addiction. During their training and studies, child psychology students learn about typical social and emotional development, abnormal behavior and disorders, and treatment methods.

These professionals may continue to research childhood and adolescent development or focus solely on clinical practice and working with patients. Some child psychologists work part time as researchers or university faculty members while working part time in their own private practice. In addition to research and clinical positions, child psychologists can also fulfill administrative roles, developing programs or curricula that facilitate healthy emotional and behavioral development.

Child Psychologist Salaries and Job Growth

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists earned a median annual salary of $80,370 in 2019. The BLS projects jobs for psychologists to grow 14% between 2018 and 2028, which is faster than average. Child psychologists occupy a specific subfield of psychologists, and their salaries generally fall within the scope of available BLS data.

Salaries vary depending on workplace setting, along with a psychologist's specialization, geographic location, and years of experience. According to PayScale, clinical child psychologists earn an annual salary of $60,000 and child psychologists with counseling skills earn a salary of $75,405.

Child psychologists earn more as they gain field experience. An early career psychologist with 1-4 years of experience can expect to earn around $68,130 per year, according to PayScale. A mid-career psychologist with 5-9 years experience makes around $73,974.

Child psychologists typically earn a salary from a particular organization, such as a hospital, school, mental health facility, rehabilitation center, research institution, or government agency. Employers set these salaries, although exact amounts vary depending on candidates' qualifications and job position.

Some child psychologists also make money from private practice, where they might offer independent counseling and therapy services. In private practice, child psychologists set their own rates and typically charge by the hour.

Psychologist Salaries
Career Lowest 10% Salary Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Salary Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028)
Psychologists Less than $45,380 $80,370 More than $132,070 14%

Source: BLS

Steps to Becoming a Child Psychologist

Becoming a child psychologist takes years of education, fellowships, and hard work before ever being issued a license. The following section details the necessary steps to starting your practice.

Step 1
Complete a Related Bachelor's Degree
Aspiring child psychologists must first complete a bachelor's degree in a related field, such as psychology, counseling, mental health, or behavioral health. Not all schools offer child psychology as a major. Some programs offer child psychology only as a specialization, concentration, or minor. Other programs do not offer child psychology at all. A bachelor's degree typically takes four years to complete.
Psychology: A bachelor's degree in psychology requires 120 credits and includes major courses in developmental psychology, social psychology, abnormal psychology, and research methods. Schools may offer bachelor of arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BS) options. A BA requires more liberal arts general education courses while a BS requires more basic science courses. In some programs, students can choose a concentration or track within the broader psychology major, such as school psychology, health psychology, neuroscience, and counseling psychology. Schools may also offer fast track or combination programs that allow learners to apply bachelor's credits toward a master's degree at the same institution. Different schools and programs offer different courses and specialization tracks.
Counseling: A bachelor's degree in counseling requires 120-180 credits and covers topics such as diversity issues in counseling, methods of counseling, and crisis intervention. The curricula typically focus on counseling strategies rather than psychological theory. Counseling programs may offer concentrations or tracks in areas including substance abuse, mental health, school counseling, art therapy, and family and marriage counseling. A bachelor's degree in counseling can lead to entry-level positions in related fields or a graduate program on a track to obtain a counseling license. Practicing counselors require a master's degree and state certification. They can work as school and career counselors, substance abuse and mental health counselors, or marriage and family therapists.
Step 2
Find a Suitable Graduate Program
After completing a bachelor's, aspiring child psychologists should pursue graduate school. While terminal master's degrees exist in this field, they do not qualify individuals to become child psychologists. Instead, professionals need a doctorate to become licensed child psychologists. When choosing a suitable doctoral program, students must first choose between earning a Ph.D. in psychology or a Psy.D. (doctor of psychology).
Ph.D. programs are ideal for students not only interested in clinical practice but also in research and academia. A Ph.D. takes 4-7 years to complete and culminates in the completion of a dissertation based on a student's own research.
Ph.D. in psychology programs are fairly competitive and require a strong GPA, GRE scores, recommendation letters, college transcripts, and a personal statement. Learners can pursue Ph.D. programs in developmental psychology, child psychology, and clinical psychology with an emphasis in developmental or child psychology. While any of these programs prepare students for a career as a licensed psychologist, students at the Ph.D. level should research faculty members at each school to see which professors complete research in their desired areas.
Students who want to focus on clinical practice without dedicating time to research often choose a Psy.D. This degree imposes less research requirements and takes less time to complete.
Step 3
Complete Practicum and Licensure Requirements
Candidates for psychology licensure must also complete a certain number of supervised clinical hours -- ranging from 1,500-6,000 -- as designated by their state's licensing board. Learners may complete these clinical hours as part of a practicum during the course of a doctoral degree or in a postdoctoral fellowship or work setting.
Practicums allow students to work closely with psychology professionals in the course of counseling and treating patients. Students often complete practicums in mental health facilities, private practices, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and correctional facilities. Learners may also explore postdoctoral fellowships to gain hands-on clinical experience.
Licensing requirements vary by state but generally include a doctoral degree in the field, the completion of supervised clinical experience, and passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). The EPPP tests candidate competencies in core psychology areas. Each state posts its own minimum score requirements that applicants must meet to obtain their license. Some states may also require candidates to pass a jurisprudence exam.
Step 4
Become Board Certified
Board certification represents to the public, patients, and potential employers that a psychologist has completed the necessary educational, training, and experience requirements to be an expert in a particular specialization. Although not required to practice psychology, board certification allows licensed psychologists to specialize and gain the expertise necessary to work with special populations or in specific subfields.
The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) certifies licensed psychologists in 15 specialty areas, including health psychology, neuropsychology, and school psychology.
To obtain ABPP certification in one of these specialty areas, psychologists need licensure in psychology, at least five years of work experience, specialized training, continuing education in one of the specialty areas, and a passing grade on a competency exam.

Child Psychology Courses

Learners who take doctoral-level courses in child psychology or developmental psychology develop competencies such as research skills and knowledge of psychological theory and best practices. Students can then apply their knowledge to their own dissertation research and practicum or internship experiences.

See below for some courses students may take during their graduate studies. Note that not every program offers these specific courses.

Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology

Lifespan Development
This course examines human developmental patterns and processes from birth to death, particularly the social, emotional, and cognitive processes at work in infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Students learn about the factors that influence development throughout the lifespan, the methods used to study development, and prevalent theories within developmental psychology.
Language and Cognitive Development
This course focuses on how humans develop from babies into adults, how humans begin to perceive the world, and how experiences in infancy and childhood influence knowledge building. Students learn to identify major theories, research findings, and methodological approaches in cognitive development and apply this research to human behavior.
Social and Emotional Development
This course provides an overview of theory and research relevant to the development of social relationships, emotional expressions and regulation, aggressive behavior, and morality. Students examine various influences on social and emotional development, including risk and protective factors for unhealthy or abnormal development and the impact of family, friends, and culture.

Ph.D. in Child Psychology

Developmental Psychopathology
Learners explore the overlap between normal and abnormal child development and the relationship between atypical development and child psychopathology. Students read literature on risk and protective factors, characteristics of disorders that present themselves in childhood, and techniques and strategies that promote positive outcomes.
Child Interventions
This course focuses on the techniques to treat and prevent psychological disorders in childhood. Students learn about the various types of child interventions and how psychologists develop and evaluate clinically approved interventions. Other topics include ethical issues in the treatment of families and children and the integration of research and practice in the treatment of psychological disorders in children.
Clinical Neuropsychology
This course introduces students to the neuropsychology subfield, including the anatomic and cognitive mechanisms underlying human behavior and neuropsychological disorders. Learners examine case studies and literature on normal and disordered brain function, lifespan issues in neuropsychological disorders, the role of neuroplasticity in the brain's response to injury or intervention, and the assessment and treatment of neuropsychological disorders.

Accreditation for Psychology Degrees

Accreditation serves as quality assurance for colleges and universities. Accrediting agencies evaluate schools based on a set of standards to ensure that students and parents receive a high-quality education. Six regional accrediting agencies oversee designated geographic regions.

Regional accreditation is considered more prestigious than national accreditation. Credits between regionally accredited universities transfer more easily since they adhere to the same standards.

Several national accrediting agencies focus on specific vocations, trades, technical careers, and professions. Psychology programs at the bachelor's and master's level are subject to regional accreditation at the institutional level. Doctoral programs are accredited by national accrediting agencies.

The American Psychological Association (APA) is the only organization authorized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit doctoral psychology programs. The APA accredits clinical psychology, school psychology, and counseling psychology doctoral programs as well as postdoctoral residencies in professional psychology.

Related Careers at a Glance

The child psychology field offers multiple career paths and specializations, including in general psychology, school psychology, neuropsychology, forensic psychology, and clinical psychology. These fields require the same level of education and licensing requirements, but the specific content of coursework and training varies.


Psychologists study behavior and brain function through the observation of behavioral or emotional patterns in how people relate to each other and their environments. They also assess, diagnose, and treat psychological, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Psychologists may work independently in private practice or research. They may also work as part of a healthcare team or in school settings.

School Psychologist

School psychologists apply psychological theory and research to assessing whether students' learning needs are being met. They counsel students, address student learning or behavioral issues, assess learning disabilities and disorders, design performance plans and school programs, evaluate student performance, and recommend strategies for enhancing learning and coping with classroom struggles. School psychologists earn an annual salary of $62,045.


Neuropsychologists specialize in brain function and how behaviors and emotions relate to brain structures and systems. They assess and evaluate brain function in the event of brain injury or when impairment due to aging, illness, or other causes begin to present. Neuropsychologists typically work in hospitals and earn an annual salary of $93,324.

Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists apply the principles and techniques of psychology to the legal realm in civil or criminal courts. They evaluate and assess a person's psychological wellbeing for legal purposes, provide treatment to criminals or families going through divorce, and serve as expert witnesses during trials. Forensic psychologists make an annual salary of $70,287.

Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists specialize in the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders -- including bipolar disorder, dementia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and autism. They work in private practice, hospitals, schools and universities, rehabilitation centers, and mental health facilities. Clinical psychologists earn an annual salary of $80,173.

Child Psychology Degrees and Career Resources

Prospective child psychologists and practicing professionals can access a variety of organizations and resources that provide research journals and conferences, professional development and training opportunities, continuing education and certifications, job boards, and advocacy. Membership in professional organizations also presents opportunities for networking and forming collaborations with colleagues with a shared specialization.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology

This membership-based group supports individuals in the field by providing advocacy, a job center, research findings, and regional chapters.

American Psychological Association

The APA is the governing body for many different facets of the field of psychology, ranging from accreditation to overseeing many different specialized professional bodies. The website provides a wealth of information for prospective child psychologists.

Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology

This academic publication heralds the latest data and emerging research within child and adolescent psychology. Professionals can read about the work of their peers or contribute their own research.

National Association of School Psychologists

Individuals looking to counsel and treat students in an educational setting are often drawn to roles as school psychologists, and the NASP exists to help these professionals. Membership perks include access to research findings, conferences, professional development opportunities, and a variety of certifications.

Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology

Operating under the umbrella of the American Psychological Association, Division 53 exists to develop and advance the field of child and adolescent psychology. Whether advocating for better public policy or providing training opportunities, SCCAP is a valuable resource for those in the field.


This search tool can help prospective students narrow down program options within the United States and find an undergraduate or graduate program in child psychology. Search results yield information on tuition and fees, acceptance rate, student population, and available programs. Learners can filter schools by location, cost, school type, learning environment, and available specializations.


Distance learning degree programs are increasingly popular and are offered by traditional colleges and primarily online institutions alike. These web-based programs allow students to balance classes and schoolwork with their busy schedules and other commitments. Some programs may be hybrid, meaning that some classroom instruction or fieldwork is required.

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