Child psychopathology is the scientific study of the origin, development and manifestation of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders that occur in children and adolescents. Child psychopathology is sometimes confused with abnormal psychology, clinical child psychology, counseling child psychology, child psychiatry and developmental psychology, so we’ll clear up that confusion here.
Abnormal psychologists study not only diagnosed psychological disorders, but also study the pre-conditions that might lead to an actual disorder, while child psychopathologists only study diagnosed disorders, and only those that occur in children or adolescents.
Clinical child psychologists, counseling child psychologists and child psychiatrists actually treat patients, while child psychopathologists don’t; they only study patients in order to advance our knowledge of psychological disorders.
Developmental psychologists study the natural development of people from birth to old age as a cyclic process, with the study of unnatural developments like developmental disorders only constituting a part of their study. Child psychopathologists, on the other hand, only study the disorders themselves without placing them within the context of developmental psychology.
Related: Becoming a Child Counselor
Child psychopathologists perform experimental research on disorders like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder, pervasive developmental disorder and oppositional defiant disorder in order to help develop better methods of treating them.
Creating new types of treatment for psychological disorders can be quite difficult. Psychological disorders can be somewhat individualized, and patients might be suffering from a unique set of combined disorders, so it’s sometimes necessary to treat the type of patient rather than the type of disorder. Sometimes, two patients who share the same disorder will receive different types of treatment, while two other patients who don’t share the same disorder might receive the same type of treatment.
Types of Degrees
Child psychopathology is a relatively new field, so bachelor degrees in psychopathology aren’t normally available. The next best majors would be in abnormal psychology or developmental psychology, if available. A Bachelor of Science in experimental psychology would also work well and is more available. A Bachelor of Science in general psychology will suffice, as long as you load up on lab courses. Typical coursework may include:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Child psychology
- Child development
- Abnormal psychology
- Experimental psychology
- Clinical psychology
- Research methods
- Cognition and learning
- Neurodevelopmental disorders
- Behavioral genetics
- Human heredity and development
- Behavioral neuroscience
- Psychological research
- History and systems of psychology
Because there are few jobs available in psychopathology for students holding only a bachelor’s degree, a graduate degree is almost a necessity. A master’s degree may suffice for many jobs as a research assistant, but most jobs for full-fledged researchers require a doctorate degree, usually a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree. A Doctor of Education (EdD) degree is good for psychopathology teachers.
There are a limited number of Master’s programs in psychopathology, and the competition can be fierce to get accepted. For those who can’t get in, getting a master’s in abnormal psychology, developmental psychology or experimental psychology may work, as long as they continue on to get a PhD in child psychopathology. Another option is to find a psychopathology program that combines the master’s degree and doctorate in one program; these combined programs usually can be completed in less time than it takes to get the master’s and doctorate degrees separately.
In graduate school, students spend a lot of time in research and in specialized learning in areas like:
- Child psychopathology
- Behavioral assessment
- Multicultural assessment
- Quantitative modeling
- Behavioral disorders
- Mood disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Health-related behaviors
- Eating disorders
Most child psychopathologists choose a career as a researcher, normally in a research institution, hospital lab or university. Those who work in universities often double as professors.
Many child psychopathologists specialize in researching a particular disorder or group of disorders. A few child psychopathologists serve as consultants for private companies or governmental agencies.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2012, the median annual wage for child psychologists was $87,450 and the mean hourly wage was $42.04.