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Becoming a Child Psychologist

What Does a Child Psychologist Do?

child psychologist with patient

Child psychology is a varied, dynamic, and rewarding field. While the educational and training requirements are rigorous, a career as a child psychologist provides abundant opportunity to work with and on behalf of children in an area of interest and preferred setting. Child psychologists serve a vital role in our society by addressing the needs of children who are struggling with mental, social-emotional, and learning issues. As we learn more about the critical period of childhood – the foundation for wellbeing in adulthood – it only further underscores the contribution that child psychologists make.

Using scientific and research-based knowledge and treatment, child psychologists focus on the developmental and behavioral wellbeing of children in the formative years of infancy through adolescence. In general all child psychologists have expert knowledge in child development, fundamental psychological needs of children, assessment, and ways in which the family and other social contexts influence children’s functioning and wellbeing. There are four major areas in which a child psychologist typically specializes:

  • Clinical psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • School psychology
  • Educational psychology

The area of specialization often determines if a child psychologist is more likely to provide direct services to children or to conduct research, although many do both. Let’s take a look at each of these.

Clinical Psychologists

Clinical child psychologists are what most people have in mind when they hear the term child psychologist. A clinical child psychologist most often provides direct services through assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of problems experienced by children. These psychologists work with children and teens who may be struggling with a variety of issues ranging from minor, short-term issues to serious, long-standing ones.

The children they serve may be experiencing internalizing behaviors – such as anxiety, depression, and somatic complaints – or externalizing behaviors like aggression, delinquency, and poor social relationships. These may be related to life events such as divorce or death; pervasive damaging environments such as neglect and abuse; disorders such as autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, and eating disorders; or more serious mental illnesses like borderline personality, bipolar, or schizophrenia.

Clinical child psychologists are particularly well versed in evaluation. A number of assessments ranging from paper-and-pencil to interview-style are matched to the child’s age and functioning; additionally parents, siblings, teachers, health care providers, and other people who know the child well are often assessed as part of the process. When interpreting assessment results, clinical child psychologists primarily use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM currently in its 5th edition) to diagnose and classify mental disorders.

Clinical child psychologists may also tailor their approach to providing therapy depending on the age of the child. For younger children, using play therapy is common. In this approach, toys and other materials/objects are carefully selected by the psychologist and provided to the child as a way to express feelings and thoughts and, with guidance from the psychologist, to learn strategies for coping and finding positive and appropriate solutions to the problems and emotions they are experiencing. Art therapy is another method used with children and adolescents to express feelings, reduce stress, and become more self-aware. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a widespread approach with older children and teens; it revolves around helping them understand and manage how behavior is influenced by thoughts that cause them certain feelings and emotions.

Developmental Psychologists

Developmental child psychologists also often work directly with children, but their focus tends to be more research-based and concerned with how development and functioning change over the stages of a child’s life, from infancy to toddlerhood, then childhood and finally adolescence. Their areas of interest can be any of the same areas as for clinical child psychologists, but many have areas of expertise that are more applicable to children as a group. For example, in the area of cognitive development, they may study language, intelligence, or schooling; in the social-emotional domain, such areas as personality, attachment, parenting behaviors, and friendship; and in the biological-physical domain, they may focus on brain development or genetics.

One of the major results of such research is to design and/or evaluate programs. These could be intervention and remediation-based, which are delivered one-on-one or in small groups such as the therapies that clinical child psychologists use. Alternately, they can be more prevention-based and implemented in agencies, schools, communities, and even nationally. Much of the research of developmental child psychologists makes its way into college psychology textbooks.

School Psychologists

School psychologists focus on the educational and mental health needs of children in school settings. Therefore they have extensive knowledge of several crosscutting disciplines in psychology and education. When conducting assessment for diagnosis, school psychologists rely most on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to determine eligibility for a disability that would allow a child to have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and receive special education services. These areas may be of a learning, behavioral, and/or emotional nature and a school psychologist will often help develop and monitor instructional support activities.

School psychologists also develop and implement school-wide programs, such as anti-bullying, crisis planning and crisis response. While some school psychologists provide counseling directly to students, typically they work more with teachers and school personnel to determine the best prevention or intervention for a child, classroom, or school and then serve to consult and collaborate as these are implemented.

Educational Psychologists

Educational psychologists have expertise in learning and teaching. They bring their knowledge of such areas as child development, neuroscience, individual differences, assessment, and curriculum and instruction to better understand and support how children learn and process information, particularly in educational settings. These psychologists may be interested in the typical learner or may focus on learning disabilities or giftedness. Those more focused on the instructional side may concentrate on theory and pedagogy, which is the method and practice of teaching. Educational child psychologists often study how environmental factors, such as parenting or socioeconomic status, impact learning.

In some cases, educational psychologists and school psychologists may do similar tasks, but educational psychologists in general tend to do more research as well as program evaluation. Their work is often used to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of teaching techniques and methods of learning for the general population of children, as well as advanced learners or children who are struggling. Much of their work is used in teacher training and preparation programs.

Workplace Details

Child psychologists work in a wide variety of settings with their area of specialization determining the specifics. Those who provide treatment will likely work in a team to create a comprehensive and consistent support network to promote recovery and wellbeing. Meanwhile, those focusing on research typically work in a team with other researchers.

  • Clinical psychologists work in private practice, hospitals and other mental health facilities. They also work in community-based social services agencies such as child welfare and the justice system, as well as non-profits.
  • Developmental psychologists work primarily in universities, think tanks and research facilities, but also in private practice, hospitals, and industry
  • School psychologists, as the name implies, work primarily in K-12 school systems or may have a private practice
  • Educational psychologists are found most frequently working in universities, think tanks and research facilities. They also work in government-funded or non-profit agencies conducting evaluation, or employed by businesses developing educational products.
  • Child psychologists in each of these areas may work as faculty members teaching in universities and colleges

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
California
$90210
New York
$89430
Texas
$65310
Pennsylvania
$72640
Massachusetts
$75550

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

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ALABAMA

Median Salary: 
$57,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $171,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$40,010$47,920$143,490

ALASKA

Median Salary: 
$69,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $52,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $103,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Anchorage$52,470$74,520$119,240

ARIZONA

Median Salary: 
$57,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $81,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$37,330$59,580$81,520
Tuscon$33,220$46,550$80,570

ARKANSAS

Median Salary: 
$57,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $108,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$30,510$58,350$91,700
Fort Smith$37,410$60,040$164,580

CALIFORNIA

Median Salary: 
$87,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $123,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 1,160

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$40,730$81,430$119,980
San Francisco Bay$41,760$86,910$128,160
San Diego$50,840$80,000$124,280
Sacramento$51,310$96,680$126,020

COLORADO

Median Salary: 
$74,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $117,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 150

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$34,740$76,880$119,750
Colorado Springs$28,670$64,310$106,790

CONNECTICUT

Median Salary: 
$86,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $53,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $121,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 150

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Hartford$56,030$86,040$121,390
Bridgeport$53,810$86,820$126,560
New Haven$51,580$88,120$117,470

DELAWARE

Median Salary: 
$79,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $52,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $112,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wilmington$51,990$75,020$109,440
Dover$46,290$81,580$109,650

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Median Salary: 
$86,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $165,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$36,190$79,500$147,530

FLORIDA

Median Salary: 
$66,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $100,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 190

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$40,870$70,070$109,810
Orlando$34,570$59,740$93,590
Tampa$43,870$70,900$94,660
Jacksonville$41,980$63,850$90,560

GEORGIA

Median Salary: 
$67,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $103,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 140

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$43,360$66,250$103,010
Augusta$41,040$60,260$112,190

HAWAII

Median Salary: 
$68,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $44,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $127,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Honolulu$44,910$70,910$127,550

IDAHO

Median Salary: 
$56,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $37,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $134,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 320

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boise$40,160$49,760$113,690
Idaho Falls$33,480$50,780$62,270

ILLINOIS

Median Salary: 
$65,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $103,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 180

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$34,440$65,400$102,750
Rockford$47,020$74,470$105,250

INDIANA

Median Salary: 
$58,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $104,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$33,400$64,040$109,720
Fort Wayne$39,740$57,230$110,870

IOWA

Median Salary: 
$70,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $113,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Des Moines$47,990$70,080$152,470
Cedar Rapids$40,160$63,050$85,320

KANSAS

Median Salary: 
$58,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $94,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 4%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wichita$43,830$59,610$91,110
Kansas City$35,600$61,290$115,440

KENTUCKY

Median Salary: 
$61,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $90,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 31%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Louisville$44,630$66,980$99,590
Lexington$42,850$59,240$86,040

LOUISIANA

Median Salary: 
$69,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $36,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $122,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New Orleans$43,800$106,690$125,190
Baton Rouge$55,770$73,320$114,980
Lafayette$34,270$48,250Over $187,200

MAINE

Median Salary: 
$75,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $51,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $148,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$52,890$63,600$112,600

MARYLAND

Median Salary: 
$71,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $111,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 130

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$42,950$67,460$102,980
Frederick$32,790$79,450$126,380

MASSACHUSETTS

Median Salary: 
$73,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $115,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 240

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$47,870$76,590$112,180
Worcester$50,670$77,590$175,510
Springfield$37,830$63,690$106,640

MICHIGAN

Median Salary: 
$67,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $38,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $114,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 6%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$39,460$69,630$121,390
Grand Rapids$28,700$61,370$89,610

MINNESOTA

Median Salary: 
$69,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $109,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$41,670$72,140$110,750
Rochester$45,880$75,840$109,930

MISSISSIPPI

Salary Data Not Available

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Gulfport$28,540$45,690$91,930

MISSOURI

Median Salary: 
$62,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $38,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $106,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$42,010$62,200$122,330
Kansas City$35,600$61,290$115,440

MONTANA

Median Salary: 
$51,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $106,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Billings$30,720$70,240$122,770
Missoula$19,750$29,290$64,810

NEBRASKA

Median Salary: 
$63,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $98,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Omaha$41,890$63,220$96,580
Lincoln$40,200$65,630$114,600

NEVADA

Median Salary: 
$68,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $95,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las Vegas$44,760$64,510$92,600
Reno$24,080$83,440$97,870

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Median Salary: 
$68,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $121,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Manchester$41,810$62,450$112,280
Nashua$43,390$65,070$77,390

NEW JERSEY

Median Salary: 
$82,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $56,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $132,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 190

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Newark$53,580$76,160$120,160
Trenton$61,980$88,180$173,990

NEW MEXICO

Median Salary: 
$63,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $37,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $95,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Albuquerque$35,170$60,910$89,070
Las Cruces$41,820$66,470$99,220

NEW YORK

Median Salary: 
$82,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $47,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $127,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 600

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$52,910$87,370$129,710
Buffalo$38,950$66,960$95,080
Rochester$41,380$67,030$96,190
Albany$45,100$75,980Over $187,200

NORTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$57,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $95,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 160

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$37,260$58,350$85,980
Raleigh$41,950$55,890$91,950
Greensboro$43,550$64,340$99,320
Winston - Salem$40,430$47,960$75,350

NORTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$77,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $120,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Fargo$35,100$76,820$124,070

OHIO

Median Salary: 
$71,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $101,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 190

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cleveland$40,110$72,710$104,570
Columbus$33,680$70,350$102,450
Cincinnati$40,300$72,360$98,790
Dayton$45,010$71,560$120,030

OKLAHOMA

Median Salary: 
$46,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $80,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$34,030$46,910$124,370
Tulsa$29,990$47,150$90,380

OREGON

Median Salary: 
$71,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $117,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$36,470$69,550$146,420
Salem$51,440$76,400$97,790

PENNSYLVANIA

Median Salary: 
$64,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $100,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 280

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$43,870$69,350$116,560
Pittsburgh$35,290$56,840$94,170
Harrisburg$49,170$71,030$102,820
Allentown$33,440$77,220$104,850

RHODE ISLAND

Median Salary: 
$74,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $50,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $123,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Providence$49,140$74,250$127,700

SOUTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$56,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $84,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Greenville$26,910$47,060$79,900
Columbia$47,580$65,290$89,710
Charleston$41,800$57,960$78,450

SOUTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$71,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $47,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $115,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Sioux Falls$53,610$81,810$111,990

TENNESSEE

Median Salary: 
$66,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $45,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $103,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$45,200$67,160$120,210
Memphis$52,050$70,120$102,000
Knoxville$46,590$68,490$181,270
Chattanooga$38,220$60,510$116,390

TEXAS

Median Salary: 
$59,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $38,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $93,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 340

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$36,020$62,510$94,550
Houston$40,070$61,670$114,750
San Antonio$37,850$57,500$78,320
Austin$38,290$57,660$86,130

UTAH

Median Salary: 
$60,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $109,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 37%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Salt Lake City$22,680$57,150$100,860
Ogden$41,040$61,390$175,650

VERMONT

Median Salary: 
$54,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $84,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Burlington$31,570$66,890$99,420

VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$68,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $37,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $124,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 150

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$29,030$59,900$96,840
Richmond$49,840$64,310$92,860

WASHINGTON

Median Salary: 
$66,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $48,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $90,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 140

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$49,520$68,130$98,120
Spokane$42,130$67,640$93,820

WEST VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$50,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $81,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 1%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Huntington$35,310$53,750$76,550
Charleston$31,780$44,140$69,590

WISCONSIN

Median Salary: 
$71,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $118,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Milwaukee$45,290$79,020$125,200
Madison$40,870$66,530$114,000

WYOMING

Median Salary: 
$69,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $44,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $111,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cheyenne$52,420$91,030$123,770

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for child psychologists is $73,270. Newly certified child psychologists may begin with a salary closer to the bottom 10% of wage earners, whose median pay is $41,830. Those in the top 10% of wage earners make a median of $120,320 annually.

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The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of clinical, counseling and school psychologists will grow by 20% between 2014 and 2024, which is considered much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand is strong for psychologists to work with the growing student population and with young people who have autism. The shift toward multi-disciplinary teaming in health care is also creating a need for child psychologists to provide comprehensive treatment to clients with complex needs.

Compare Salaries by City

New York City NY Median Pay

$87370 Per Year

$42.000 Per Hour

Los Angeles CA Median Pay

$81430 Per Year

$39.14 Per Hour

Steps to Become a Child Psychologist

1

Complete an undergraduate education.

Earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a major related to child psychology – or at least taking substantial coursework and having work or volunteer experience related to child psychology – is recommended to facilitate acceptance into the doctoral program of your choice. Most doctoral programs use coursework, experience, and standardized test scores (such as the GRE - Graduate Record Exam) when selecting candidates.

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2

Enter graduate school with the goal of earning a PhD.

Depending on the university, a master’s degree may be expected before entering a doctoral program. In some universities, these degrees are combined. But for any of the types of child psychologists described above, a PhD (Doctor in Philosophy) in psychology is most often expected. Approximately 75% of doctorate psychology degrees are PhDs. However, a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) is an option for those wanting to focus on clinical work, while an EdD (Doctor of Education) is an option for those in educational settings, most often administration. A PhD is the most versatile, as it allows you to be prepared for clinical work and for research.

Most programs expect full-time commitment. A PhD will take the longest to complete, generally 5 to 8 years, because it involves a dissertation. This also makes it the most expensive, although many students have a teaching or research assistantship and/or grants to help offset the cost. PsyD and EdD students do not have as heavy a research component, being more focused on clinical work, and therefore usually take about a year and a half less to obtain the degree than a PhD.

It is important to be aware that earning a doctorate is expensive. Many graduates have substantial debt by the time they complete their education. And it’s very important to make sure that your chosen graduate program is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Please note: currently the APA does not accredit exclusively online programs.

3

Fulfill practicum requirements.

Practicum requirements and duration vary by state – make sure you are aware. Many states require the doctoral program to be accredited by the APA (American Psychological Association) and require supervised practicum training, ranging from one to several years. To reduce obstacles around eventual licensure, it is important to choose a doctoral program carefully and begin planning for practicum hours while still in grad school.

4

Get licensed.

Licensure at the state level is required to practice psychology in the U.S., providing direct therapeutic services. Part of the licensure process is to sit for the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).

Exploring Degree Paths

EDUCATIONAL SPECIALIST (EdS) DEGREE

3 years beyond the bachelor's level

Consider an Educational Specialist (EdS) program in school psychology if you plan to spend your career in schools (and not in college-level research or teaching).

You can usually enter an EdS program with a bachelor’s degree in any subject. Some schools may require undergraduate coursework in psychology or statistics.

The National Association of School Psychology (NASP) offers a voluntary approval program for EdS programs in school psychology. Approval certifies that the program meets NASP’s minimum quality standards for teaching, curriculum, and fieldwork. Graduates of approved programs often have an easier time getting licensed and certified as school psychologists.

EdS students generally spend about two years taking courses like:

School law

Examine federal and state statutes and case law governing student civil rights and the education of students with disabilities.

Counseling theory

Study how different types of talk therapy can help students and families succeed in school.

Consultation

Learn techniques for working with teachers, parents, and administrators to promote student success.

Student assessment

Practice selecting, administering, and interpreting educational tests with emphasis on testing ethics.

During the first two years, students also complete a 500-hour supervised practicum in order to practice their skills with real clients. EdS programs culminate with a 1,200 hour internship in school psychology that lasts about one year.

DOCTORAL DEGREE

5–8 years beyond the bachelor's level

In order to practice as a clinical child psychologist, conduct research in psychology, or teach at the college level, you’ll need to earn a doctorate. Doctorates are available in educational, developmental, school, and clinical child psychology.

Most psychology programs grant Doctor of Philosophy degrees (PhDs). Alternately, clinical child psychologists who wish to focus on practice can pursue a Doctor of Psychology degree (PsyD). PsyD students spend less time on research, more time on fieldwork, and generally don’t write a dissertation.

When choosing a doctoral program in psychology, look for one accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Holding a degree from an accredited school makes it much easier to get licensed for clinical practice. Also, many employers (notably the federal government) only hire graduates of accredited programs.

Admission to psychology doctoral programs can be highly competitive, so it’s best to start preparing in undergrad. Many schools require a degree in psychology or a related field. Earning a master’s degree in psychology can be a desirable stepping-stone, as can experience in teaching or research.

Psychology doctoral students usually begin their journey with coursework in:

Child and family therapy

Use family therapy techniques to treat common childhood problems and explore how family dynamics shape child behavior.

Research design

Practice using the scientific method to explore and answer psychological questions.

Social development

Study the many influencers of personal development, from culture and biology to social context.

Psychopathology

Learn about the causes, prevalence, and diagnostic criteria for different classes of mental disorders.

Doctoral students also teach undergraduate courses, participate in faculty research, and complete individual research projects.

Throughout the program, clinical child psychology students complete supervised fieldwork called practicum. Training concludes with a one-year APA-approved internship.

Keys to Success as a Child Psychologist

Necessary Skills and Qualities

There are characteristic-based competencies that make for a successful child psychologist.

People skills

When working with children and their significant others, psychologists rely on their strength in communication and collaboration; empathy; the ability to be objective; the ability to establish trust; and patience.

A love of working independently

Child psychologists work quite independently, due to their high level of education and expertise. At the same time, expectations are high and, in general, the profession of child psychologist is on the demanding side. But with those demands comes great gratification.

Flexibility

Those in private practice must be available when children are. This often means evenings and weekends to build and maintain a successful practice. Settings that employ child psychologists to provide direct services to children must often carry a heavy caseload.

Perseverance

Because business is focused on generating revenue, there is pressure for child psychologists in this setting to put in long hours and get results in the form of sales and profit. Those who conduct research particularly in universities often fall under the “publish or perish” expectation, which requires substantial devotion of time and effort as well as the ongoing need to write and be awarded grants.

Additional Credentials

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) administers the National Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential. The NCSP meets the licensure requirements of many states. Candidates must meet requirements for coursework, practicum, and internship and pass an exam.

The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers voluntary board certification in Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology. To be eligible, candidates must hold a degree from an accredited doctoral program, meet postdoctoral experience and supervision requirements, and pass a test.

Further Reading

If you would like to further explore becoming a child psychologist, here are some action steps from reputable sources:

  • Learn more about child psychology and various specialties at the American Psychological Association
  • Interview child psychologists in your community. Psychology Today Therapists provides in-depth profiles and allows you to search by location and then by area of specialty, age of children served, treatment orientation, and more.
  • Evaluate educational programs. The Office of Graduate and Postgraduate Education and Training from APA has an excellent database of accredited programs. You can search by state, specialization, and degree and these results each have a direct link to the program. Here you can learn about individual programs including coursework, faculty, and admissions.
Lilla Dale McManis, PhD

Lilla Dale McManis has been a psychologist for the past 20 years. She holds a PhD in educational psychology, a master’€™s degree in special education, and a bachelor’€™s degree in child development. Over the course of her career, Dr. McManis has worked directly in the K-12 school system, in universities, in state government, and in private industry. Currently she is President & CEO of Parent in the Know and Early Childhood Research Solutions, where she focuses on the assessment of children in the areas of intelligence, achievement, and social-emotional functioning and the feelings, attitudes, and behaviors associated with effective parenting. In addition, Dr. McManis is a consultant and her main area of work and interest relates to child development, prevention, and parenting.

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