Pediatric Psychologist Career Guide

What is Pediatric Psychology?

Pediatric psychology was “unofficially” founded by Lightner Witmer during the early 1900s. However, it was not “officially” recognized by American Psychological Association until 1968. Lightner Witmer, often referred to as the “Father of Clinical Psychology,” spent the majority of his early years of practice working with medical doctors in an effort to find effective ways to manage and/or improve child behaviors. Pediatric psychology (a combination of medicine and psychology) is considered a “slow progressing” discipline. The goal of pediatric psychology is to promote the health, well-being, and development of adolescents (i.e. children, pre-teens, and teens) and their families. Evidence-based methods are typically used to assist this process.

Pediatric psychology encompasses a wide-variety of areas. These areas include: developmental, contextual, and psychosocial factors that can contribute to pediatric psychological and physical issues. It also includes: the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of pediatric medical conditions (i.e. mental illnesses and developmental disorders), prevention of pediatric medical conditions (physical and psychological), educating the general population on pediatric health conditions, promoting health-related behaviors, advocating for child and family public policies, and improving pediatric healthcare delivery services.

What are the Job Duties of a Pediatric Psychologist?

Pediatric psychology focuses on child-related (i.e. children, pre-teens, and teens) issues, therefore, pediatric psychologists analyze children and their families. These mental health professionals guide adolescences towards adopting a logical and practical plan that will help them accomplish their short-term and long-term goals. One of the primary goals of pediatric psychologists is to examine adolescents for signs of confusion, developmental delays, and learning disabilities. These psychologists also conduct research studies that focus on pediatric behaviors (i.e. cause, triggers, and problematic issues).

Related Reading: How to become a Pediatric Psychologist

The ultimate goal of pediatric psychologists is to help adolescents and their families change unhealthy habits, so that adolescents can grow up in healthier and more positive family environments. Pediatric psychologists also examine the reactions and behaviors of family members to better understand family dynamics, and its effect on pediatric cognitive development. A pediatric psychologist may work at a college as a psychology instructor/professor, research lab, private practice, hospital, clinic, mental health residential treatment center, or government/social services agency. In addition, he or she may provide psychosocial services to adolescents with medical conditions.

What is the Job Outlook for Pediatric Psychologists?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, clinical, counseling, and school psychology jobs are expected to increase 11% by 2022. Although the Bureau does not mention pediatric psychology specifically, one would assume that it falls in the branches of psychology listed above. This increase may most likely stem from a heightened awareness of pediatric mental health concerns, and the connection between pediatric health conditions, and mental illnesses, or psychological distress. In other words, children, who suffer from chronic illnesses, tend to experience psychological distress (i.e. depression, anxiety, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), etc.).

Chronic health conditions can also trigger mental illnesses, in those predisposed to them. Therefore, as more and more children experience psychological and physical distress, there will be a need for pediatric psychologists and pediatric specialists (i.e. assistants). Also, as more effective assessment and diagnostic tools, for adolescents, are developed, the need for these professionals may increase, because children with mental illnesses will be diagnosed and treated earlier, therefore, there may be fewer cases of adults diagnosed with chronic and/or severe mental illnesses and psychological distress.

What is the Salary for a Pediatric Psychologist?

According to Payscale.com, “seasoned” pediatric psychologists typically earn approximately $70,000, per year, on average. However, those in the lower 10% tend to make $36,000, per year, on average. These psychologists typically are just beginning their careers, or work in rural, less populated areas. On the other hand, those in the upper 10% can make up to $135,000 (or more), per year, on average.

Pediatric psychologists tend to work in heavily populated areas. They also tend to have a wealth of experience. A pediatric psychologist’s annual salary will largely depend on his or her education, training, license, certification, location, and specialties. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, clinical, counseling, and school psychologists typically earn approximately $74,000, per year on average, while general psychologists typically earn approximately $89,810 (or more), per year, on average.

What Degree Do You Need to Become a Pediatric Psychologist?

To become a pediatric psychologist, one must first acquire a bachelor’s degree (B.S. or B.A.) from an accredited undergraduate program. It is important to note that at the undergraduate level, a student can pick any field to major in. In other words, the bachelor’s degree does not have to be in a psychology field. Common courses required at the undergraduate level include: science, social science, English literature, English composition, college math, electives, statistics, etc. The courses that an undergraduate student takes depend on his or her major. This individual will not be required to complete extensive research papers (i.e. thesis or dissertation), nor will he or she be required to complete a clinical internship at a pediatric hospital/clinic, or child-related social services agency.

It normally takes 4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree. Once the student has earned a bachelor’s degree in his or her chosen field, he or she will be able to enroll in a graduate pediatric psychology program. The purpose of this program is to prepare students for researching, or entry-level positions. It may also prepare students for entrance into a doctoral degree program, if they so choose.

In order to be successful in this field, an individual must have a strong background in science. In fact, most graduate pediatric programs require several science courses (prerequisites) before acceptance into the program. Courses required at the graduate level include: behavioral disorders, lifespan development, abnormal psychology, child psychology, family psychology, family dynamics, emotional elements of illness and injury, development disorders, developmental delays, learning disabilities, pediatric conditions, etc. Once, the student has fulfilled the coursework requirements, he or she will be ready to complete a thesis (an intensive and extensive research paper on a pediatric psychology topic). Graduate program scan take between 1 and 3 years to complete.

Following graduation, the student will be able to enroll in a doctoral psychology program. The purpose of this program is to prepare doctoral students for teaching at the college level, conducting research, and practicing at a mental health facility, private practice, or children’s clinic/hospital. It also teaches students on how to better understand the factors that influence child development, and how family dynamics, culture, and the environment contribute to the development and progression of pediatric health conditions.

Doctoral students typically spend most of their time researching pediatric issues, and completing internships, rather than completing coursework, however, they do take a couple of research-based courses (i.e. research methods, statistics, etc.) to help them with their dissertations.

Once students have completed the required coursework, internships, and dissertations, they will be able to seek licensure. Research at this level typically centers on analyzing the cultural, social, and genetic factors that influence child development. This program normally takes 5 to 7 years to complete, afterword; a doctoral student will be classified as a pediatric psychologist (i.e. after acquiring licensure).

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