How to Become a Pediatric Psychologist


Working with children is usually associated with disciplines such as teaching, nursing, and social work. But if you want to combine childcare and pedagogy with the fun of psychology, there are other avenues to take. One is to pursue pediatric psychology, which absolutely craves people with a passion for both. Here’s how to become a pediatric psychologist.

The term “child psychology” is commonly used as a synonym for pediatric psychology, and it is not without reason. Both terms describe the same line of work. A career in this area requires being adept at understanding children’s inherent needs. Sometimes, this may require you to get down to their level. To rekindle the childish spirit within, in other words. However, you will not get by as a childish and immature practitioner. Treatment needs to be as professional in its execution as it always is. This means pediatric psychology is not that far off from clinical and counseling psychology, and requires similar personality strengths.

Pediatric psychology involves the application of psychological principles to medical science and treatment in children and adolescents. It is a field that comprises in part various components of medical treatment as they pertain to illness and injury suffered in children, and psychological impacts thereof. This field involves scientific research as well as clinical practice. Pediatric psychology is practiced in a variety of healthcare venues, such as hospitals and medical clinics. It can also be an avenue that provides oversight to healthcare treatment practices, and advocacy on behalf of patients.

What Does a Pediatric Psychologist Do?

Pediatric psychologists, or child psychologists, have a variety of duties, which may depend on their employment setting. Many pediatric psychologists work for healthcare systems, such as hospitals, to provide psychological services to child patients. Typically, pediatric psychologists will attend to the needs of critically ill children, such as those that have cancer or another life-threatening illness. In this context, a pediatric psychologist may offer individual counseling to children to help them cope with the stressors of their illness, or they may provide group counseling to numerous patients in the pediatric area of a hospital.

Other pediatric psychologists choose to open a private practice. In this setting, much of what a pediatric psychologist does revolves around helping children overcome mental, emotional or behavioral difficulties. For example, a pediatric psychologist might engage in therapy with a child that is struggling with his parents’ divorce. The next client one might see might be a teenage girl that’s struggling with body image issues. The next client might be a teenage boy that has ADHD that is causing him a great deal of distress at school. Though each of these clients has different needs, the approach would be similar – the pediatric psychologist would use therapeutic techniques that help the child explore his or her problems and identify solutions to overcome those problems.

Pediatric psychologists commonly work for government agencies as well, including agencies like the Department of Family Services. In this capacity, pediatric psychologists evaluate children that may not live in a suitable home. For example, if child neglect is suspected, the Department of Family Services might ask a pediatric psychologist to interview and assess the child. This might involve simply talking to the child to try and elicit any information about possible trauma, or it might involve more structured steps, such as administering a questionnaire or a mental health exam to determine what if any neglect the child may have suffered.

If neglect is suspected, the pediatric psychologist would work with other members of an intervention team to rectify the situation immediately. There may also be duties related to skill-building in this context as well. For example, a pediatric psychologist might teach parents behavioral training methods to help them better handle their child’s behavior and work towards developing a better relationship with their child.

Why Do We Need Pediatric Psychology?

Pediatric psychology fills a substantial gap in health services for children. Medical concerns in children are doubtless particularly difficult to cope with, and advances made in the field of pediatric psychology remove some of the inherent trauma.

Childhood is a time when a person’s opinion of themselves and views of the world are formed. The experiences, both good and bad can shape a person’s future. For instance, there are things which can occur in childhood, such as neglect, abuse or death of a parent that can lead to various emotional, social and mental issues in children. Events during childhood can have a lasting impact on the choices, reactions and coping skills a person has as an adult.

In addition, certain mental illnesses first manifest during childhood. A pediatric psychologist has the training and expertise to help children process traumatic events or deal with mental health issues. Children are at a different developmental stage than an adult and may require different treatment than an adult does, which is why specialized knowledge of child develop is needed. By treating children early, it may help decrease lifelong mental and emotional issues.

Where Does a Pediatric Psychologist Work?

Pediatric psychologists typically work in the following environments:

  • Child centers
  • Private practice
  • The justice system
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Private and public schools
  • Mental health treatment centers
  • Public and private research facilities

What are the Education and Licensing Requirements to Become a Pediatric Psychologist?

Pediatric psychologists need a high level of education, and that’s because they are essentially a form of clinical psychologists. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this involves a doctoral degree. They need either a Ph.D. in psychology, or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree.

The Ph.D. is a research degree that includes comprehensive exams, a uniquely created dissertation, and the completion of a 1-year internship. Some candidates embark on work with predoctoral or postdoctoral supervision, or a residency program. They may do this either to substitute the internship, or for the purpose of adding onto their already existing credentials.

The Psy.D. is a degree that is particularly clinical in nature. It entails heavy loads of practical work and arduous examinations. Because these types of undertakings are more relevant to practitioners in the area of pediatric psychology, many in this sub-field opt for the latter rather than the former.

The Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology is a common denominator for both doctoral degrees, and is required to obtain a license (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

If you are still in college, you may know that there are scarce opportunities to pursue pediatric psychology at the Master’s level. You may prepare for this specialization by pursuing courses in developmental psychology.

What is the Employment Outlook for Pediatric Psychologist?

Pediatric psychologists belong to an occupational category that lumps together clinical, counseling, and school psychologists. Their future employment is hence best projected using this group as a reference. Pediatric psychologist should enjoy a job growth rate of around 14% until 2028. This figure is the same as that for psychologists across all concentrations.  It is also well above the average projected job growth for all US occupations during the same period (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

What is the Salary of a Pediatric Psychologist?

Earnings for pediatric psychologists are not set in stone. A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics makes this clear. While those working in elementary and secondary school settings have a median salary of $69,870, that figure is $83,120 for professionals concerned with substance abuse. Pediatric psychologists at large can expect a salary of around $72,310, which is about the same as psychologists in general and slightly above. Factors such as geographic location and work experience will help determine your exact salary, as will sector of employment.

The question is if it matters. Paying the bills as a pediatric psychologist is unlikely to become a problem for you.

What Careers are Similar to Pediatric Psychology?

There are a few different careers, which are similar to pediatric psychology including those listed below.

School Psychology: School psychologists provide services in various education systems including preschools, juvenile justice programs and community-based treatment programs. But the majority of school psychologists work with students in K through 12th in schools. School psychologists work directly with students helping them deal with problems, manage emotions and deal with issues that may interfere with their education. They may also work with school administrators to develop programs and policies to help children succeed. School psychologists are usually required to have a doctorate.

General Psychology: General psychologists are involved in the diagnosis and treatment of individuals with various types of mental health problems. The work of a pediatric psychologist and general psychologist is very similar. They use various types of treatment and therapy to help people cope with difficult life situations or conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Although they may work with adults, they also work with children.

Marriage and Family Therapy: In any family, issues are bound to develop that can affect communication and relationships. Marriage and family therapists may work with individual members of families including children or entire family units to improve relationships. Marriage and family therapists may help adults and children deal with complex issues, such as grief, divorce, depression and domestic violence. The minimum requirement to work as a marriage and family therapist is a master’s degree.

Developmental Psychology: Developmental psychologists are experts in understating how development through the lifespan may affect human nature and behavior. Developmental psychologists study emotional, physical, cognitive and personality development. The exact nature of the work may vary based on the setting they work in. For instance, some developments psychologists may work in schools evaluating students to determine if they have developmental delays. In order to work as a developmental psychologist, a doctorate is usually required.

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