How To Become A Child Psychologist: Salary, Education Requirements And Job Growth – Forbes

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Children’s mental health affects how they think, act, feel and relate to others, and poor mental health among children can have devastating effects. Even toddlers can suffer from mental health issues.

If you enjoy working with children and you’re wondering how to become a child psychologist, read on to find out what you need to know to enter this career field. If you want to make a difference in children’s lives, becoming a child psychologist may be a good career option.

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Child Psychologist Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not report data on child psychologists specifically, but it does track data on psychologists overall. The BLS projects jobs for psychologists to increase by 6% between 2022 and 2032.

Children of all ages need mental healthcare. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 children between the ages of 2 and 8 have been diagnosed with a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder, and 8.9% of adolescents and teens aged 12 to 17 have attempted suicide. As reported by the National Institute of Mental Health, deaths by suicide have increased among teens in recent years and appeared to spike during the Covid-19 pandemic.

These statistics indicate a critical and growing need for child psychologists to help children of all ages manage their emotional, behavioral and mental health issues.

What Does a Child Psychologist Do?

Child psychologists provide psychological services to children and adolescents to help promote their mental health and well-being. These professionals use specialized knowledge and strategies to address the psychological needs of children who are struggling with behavioral, emotional or other mental health challenges.

Child psychologists support children’s well-being by:

  • Assessing children’s psychological, intellectual and cognitive issues
  • Addressing psychological, emotional, developmental, cognitive and behavioral issues that children may be experiencing
  • Treating children who struggle with trauma and loss, anxiety, stress, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, cognitive deficits, behavioral problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, addiction, eating disorders and other conditions
  • Providing interventions, such as psychotherapy and behavior modification
  • Developing preventative programs for bullying, teen pregnancy, childhood obesity, substance abuse and other issues

Child Psychologist Salary

According to Payscale, child psychologists earned an average annual base salary of around $73,000 as of March 2024. Child psychologists with 20 or more years of experience earned an average annual salary of around $96,000.

Steps to Becoming a Child Psychologist

If you want to become a child psychologist, plan to spend eight to 10 years completing the education required for licensure. You must typically complete a bachelor’s degree, a doctorate, and a clinical internship before you can move forward with testing for licensing and certification.

As you plan your career path, learn your state’s specific requirements, as each state sets its own licensing criteria.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Aspiring child psychologists often earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology, child psychology or a related field. Although not mandatory to enter a graduate psychology program, majoring in one of these subjects helps you learn the basics of psychology and prepare to begin your doctoral studies. Bachelor’s degree coursework varies among majors.

If you choose a bachelor’s degree in child psychology, coursework may include child development, adolescent development, educational psychology and disorders of childhood and adolescence.

A bachelor’s degree in psychology involves more general coursework. Courses may include introduction to psychology, introduction to anatomy and physiology, statistics and scientific investigation. If you choose this path, consider taking classes that focus on children’s mental health issues, if they are available.

Complete a Psy.D. or Ph.D. Program

A master’s degree would enable you to work as a mental health counselor, but you need a doctorate to become a child psychologist. To become a child psychologist, you could theoretically move directly into a doctoral program after earning your bachelor’s. However, if your undergraduate degree is in a field unrelated to psychology, you may need to earn a master’s in child psychology or psychology first.

You can pursue a Psy.D. or a Ph.D. for your doctoral degree. Either of these degrees provides a deep understanding of the principles of psychology, prepares you to work as a psychologist and allows you to concentrate or specialize in child psychology. However, there are differences between the two degree types.


A Ph.D. is more research-focused than a Psy.D. It’s common for those who earn this degree to work in teaching, research or clinical practice. Choose a Ph.D. if you want to learn more about the principles of research as they relate to your field.

The coursework required for a Ph.D. may include advanced research methods, statistics, abnormal psychology, developmental psychology, personality psychology and experimental methods.


Choose a Psy.D. if you want to concentrate less on research and more on direct work with children in clinical settings. You can complete this degree program more quickly than a Ph.D. program because a Psy.D. has more clinical components and fewer research requirements.

Coursework required for a Psy.D. may include child development, adolescent development, social psychology, cognitive foundations of behavior, psychological theories and research methods.

Gain Pre-Professional Experience

Doctoral programs for clinical or counseling psychology require clinical internships. The Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers provides information on finding internships and helps candidates match with internship opportunities.

Some states require child psychologists to complete a postdoctoral fellowship. A fellowship involves working for a specific number of hours under supervision, typically lasting one or two years. A fellowship allows you to gain real-world experience working with children in a clinical setting.

Apply for State Licensure

In addition to earning your doctorate, you must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)—the national licensing exam—to become a licensed psychologist. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) oversees the EPPP. Learn more about the exam in our guide on how to pass the EPPP.

Specific licensing requirements vary by state, so check your state’s guidelines to ensure you’re meeting the requirements. The ASPPB maintains an online directory of licensing boards in the U.S. and Canada.

Obtain Board Certification

Becoming board-certified signifies that you have proven expertise in your chosen specialty. The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) handles certification for licensed psychologists in 17 specialty areas.

The American Board of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (ABCCAP) is a member board of ABPP and handles board certification for the clinical child and adolescent psychology credential. You must pass the ABCCAP exam to become certified.

Frequently Asked Questions About Child Psychologists

What skills are needed to be a child psychologist?

Child psychologists need excellent analytical, observational, problem-solving and research skills. They should also be compassionate and understanding since they may work with children who have serious mental disorders or those who may be victims of abuse.

How long does it take to become a child psychologist?

It should take you six to eight years to complete your education requirements. All in all, it takes eight to 10 years to complete your fellowship, take your exams and go through the licensing and certification processes.

What is the difference between pediatric psychology and child psychology?

Pediatric psychologists typically work in medical facilities such as pediatric hospitals, treating children with life-threatening illnesses. Child psychologists may work in other settings, including outpatient clinics, hospitals, government agencies and private practices.

Is a child psychologist a doctor?

Yes, a child psychologist is a doctor. While these professionals are not medical doctors and cannot perform medical procedures, child psychologists hold doctoral degrees and can diagnose and treat mental illnesses.

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