Pediatric Psychologist Schooling & Degree Guide [2024 Updated]

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 Does a Pediatric Psychologist Do?

Pediatric 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 Psychologists?

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.

What are the Educational 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.

To become a pediatric psychologist, one must first acquire a bachelor’s degree (B.S. or B.A.) from an accredited school. 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. However, a bachelors degree in psychology is highly recommended.

It normally takes 4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree. Once the student has earned a bachelor’s degree, 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

Following graduation from a masters program, the student will be able to enroll in a doctoral psychology program.

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.

Once students have completed the required coursework, internships, and dissertations, they will be able to seek licensure. 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).

Being a pediatric psychologist can be challenging, as it involves working with children who may be experiencing behavioral, emotional, developmental or other mental health difficulties. It may also be emotionally demanding, as pediatric psychologists often work with children who have experienced trauma or other difficult life experiences.

However, being a pediatric psychologist can also be extremely rewarding to help children overcome their mental health challenges and improve their well-being. Pediatric psychologists often need to be empathetic, patient and able to work well not only with children but also their families. In certain cases, they may also need to be able to work as part of a team, as they may collaborate with other professionals such as psychiatrists, teachers, social workers, and physicians.

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

Are Pediatric Psychologists in Demand?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, clinical, counseling, and school psychology jobs are expected to increase 10% by 2031. 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?

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. As of February 2024, according to ZipRecruiter, a pediatric psychologist on average earns $115,544 per year.

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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