A child psychology degree focuses on how genetic, social and environmental factors influence a child’s development (from birth through adolescence). With a child psychology degree, you have the skills to pursue a variety of careers (researcher, teacher, therapist, etc.). An advanced degree (a master’s degree or doctorate) may enable you to work with abused and/or neglected children, children with mental illnesses and/or adolescents who abuse drugs and alcohol. You may also be able to guide students as they prepare for their futures. So if you are wondering what you can do with a child psychology degree – you are in luck. There are a lot of career paths you can venture down with a background in child psychology.
Education & Training
Bachelor’s Degree Program
This degree program is designed to help you earn a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in child psychology. A bachelor’s degree program in child psychology helps you develop the skills that are needed to enter the fields of human resources, child education and counseling. This program typically takes approximately four years to complete and courses may consist of research methods and human development (cognitive, emotional, social and language). The goal of this program is to prepare you for clinical work with disabled, delayed, healthy and mentally ill children and adolescents.
Master’s Degree Programs
This program is designed to help you earn a Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) degree in child psychology. An advanced degree in this field may provide you with higher paying jobs and more job opportunities, in general. This is especially true if you want to take a more active role with children. For instance, with a master’s degree in child psychology, you may be able to work with children who have learning disabilities, emotional distress, behavioral problems, social issues, developmental delays, substance abuse problems and/or mental illness.
This program takes approximately 2.5 to three years to complete and courses may include: research methodology, child development, personality assessments and counseling techniques. The goal of the master’s degree program is to prepare you to work as a counselor, social worker and/or behavioral specialist.
Post-Graduate Doctoral Degree Programs
This degree program is designed to help you earn a doctorate (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in child psychology. The main purpose of a post-graduate doctoral child psychology program is to help enhance your therapy, intervention and research skills so you can effectively treat children, adolescents and their families. This program takes between 5 and seven years to complete.
The program typically consists of a combination of research (quantitative, qualitative, cognitive, behavioral and biological) coursework, a one-year internship and a dissertation (an extensive research paper). Once you graduated, you will have an opportunity to enroll in a two-year child psychology fellowship program that focuses on in-depth instruction, guidance and practice.
Child Psychology Degree Careers
Child Psychologist/School Psychologist
With an advanced degree (master’s and/or doctorate) in child psychology and a license/certification, you can become a child psychologist. You will also have the ability to choose a specialty such as: child-related abnormal psychology, child-related adjustment issues, school psychology and/or developmental psychology. Some of the issues you may treat include: divorce, learning disabilities, developmental delays, college guidance, depression, anxiety, phobias, child abuse, substance abuse, self-esteem issues, bullying, etc. You may work at a private practice, a social services agency or school.
If you decide to practice as a school psychologist, your main responsibilities will be to evaluate student needs, counsel students, design educational programs for healthy students and those with special needs and provide resources for students with drug and alcohol addictions. At minimum, you will need a master’s degree and a license to practice as a school psychologist.
With a doctorate in child psychology, you will have the skills needed to teach college-level courses. Your advanced degree in child psychology may enable you to teach traditional and non-traditional college students, supervise undergraduate and graduate psychology students while they work on their thesis paper, develop psychology programs and collaborate with future child psychologists. You will also have the skills needed to write grants for research funding. If you decide to pursue this career path, you will more than likely split your time between teaching and conducting research studies.
Another career path you can pursue with a master’s degree or doctorate in child psychology is research. You main responsibilities will be to observe, assess and design new therapy and treatment methods. Your focus will be on studying child development (thinking patterns, behaviors, social interactions and physical and emotional) from birth through adolescences.
You may also study the various factors that affect child development and examine the possible causes when it comes to childhood mental disorders. Moreover, your research studies may focus on developing more effective educational programs, teaching methods and classroom curriculum for children with special needs (learning disabilities and developmental delays). You may work in a university lab or at an independent research laboratory or a government agency.
You can use your bachelor’s degree in child psychology to become a social servant. If you decide to pursue this career you will primarily work in a public setting (community outreach center, mental health facility and/or social services agency). As more and more children enter the “system” (child protective services, foster care, juvenile justice, etc.) there will be an increased demand for social workers with a child psychology background. Your skills will not only allow you to provide resources for children and their family, it will also help you properly assess dangerous situations (child abuse and neglect).
Some states require that you be licensed as social worker or counselor before practicing social worker so it is important to research your state’s requirements before choosing a degree program. It is also important to note that most social workers (child case managers) carry large caseloads (15-20 children) and many of the children have abuse and/or neglect issues, mental illness and/or criminal backgrounds.
You may work at a social services agency providing child protective, foster care and/or juvenile justice services. In addition, the children may reside in foster homes, relative homes, group homes, treatment facilities or juvenile detention centers. Furthermore, you may be required to go to court dates, doctor’s appointments and family visitations with the children.
- Child Social Worker Career
- How to Become a Child Psychologist
- How to Become a Developmental Psychologist
- How to Become a Child Counselor
Further Reading and References
- Siegler, R. (2006). How Children Develop, Exploring Child Development Student Media Tool kit & Scientific American Reader to Accompany How Children Develop. New York: Worth Publishers.
- Steinberg, L. (2008). Adolescence (8th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 60–365.
- Upton, P. (2011). Developmental Psychology: Critical Thinking in Psychology. Exeter: Learning Matters, 62.
- Mayo School of Graduate Medical Education. (2013). Psychology, Post-Ph.D. (Medical Psychology) fellowship.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2013). Psychologists. Occupational Outlook Handbook.