How to Choose a Child Psychologist Degree

Columbia University has released a piece of research that conclusively demonstrated that many mental health problems start during childhood. In fact, the study concluded that 20% of all children have a mental health disorder that could be diagnosed before they reach adulthood. Furthermore, 10% of them have mental health difficulties that are so severe, that these have a direct impact on their home and school life. Because of this, there is a desperate need for child psychologists, who are trained to help children deal with their experiences and emotions in such a way that they have a better quality of life. The work of child psychologists spans a variety of different issues, from children having to come to terms with parents who are separating or are separated, to children with eating disorders.

If you are considering studying towards a child psychologist degree, it is likely that you have a strong interest in childhood. This is a period of time that is both incredibly simple and incredible complex. It shapes and influences the adults of tomorrow, which is why it is so important for a childhood to be a happy and secure time.

What Is Child Psychology?

The field of child psychology is a recognized specialization that focuses on the behavior and development of children. It is one of the most popular psychology concentrations. Because of this, various sub-specializations now also exist, such as emotional and mental well being, development, social skills, behavior problems, and milestones.

While child psychology is now incredibly popular, it is still relatively new. In Medieval times, children were seen as small adults and treated as such. After this, children were seen as “the original sin”, meaning they were classed as evil. Childhood was a period of time in which they had to get rid of their sin. This changed under John Locke in the 17th century, and picked up on by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century, who proposed that children were born good but it was society that made them evil. Interestingly, this particular debate still hasn’t yet been concluded and it is now known as the “nature versus nurture” debate.

How to Choose a Child Psychology Degree

Child psychologists hold doctorate degrees. Usually, they will complete a bachelor’s degree in generalized psychology, followed by a master’s degree where they can start to think about a specialization. Often, by this time, they already have a good understanding of which school of though they would follow. This is important as it is likely to also drive their choice of child psychology degrees. Popular schools of thought include those of:

  • Sigmund Freud (five developmental stages, of which four are in childhood)
  • Anna Freud (psychoanalytic child psychology)
  • Jean Piaget (cognitive development emphasizing child education)
  • John Bowlby (attachment theory)

To become a child psychologist, you will need to spend many years studying. The specific steps are:

  1. Complete a bachelor’s degree in a liberal arts, preferably in psychology. Child psychology undergraduate degrees do not exist, but you can choose child psychology elective courses.
  2. Complete a master’s degree with a focus on child psychology.
  3. Complete a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) with a focus on clinical child psychology or clinical psychology with a child development concentration. Some schools combine the master’s and doctorate degrees.
  4. Become licensed, which means you must first complete an American Psychological Association overseen supervised practicum period. To become licensed, you must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, which the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards administers.
  5. Obtain Board certification, which is a postdoctoral form of fellowship.

Not only is the period towards becoming a child psychologist a lengthy one, but actually choosing your degree program is equally confusing. This is because the field of psychology is incredibly popular, and you can therefore go to virtually any university in the country. The first thing you must do is ensure that the program is accredited by the American Psychological Association, so that you know it meets and exceeds the minimum standards of skills and knowledge.

The second thing you have to do is make sure that you meet the admission requirements set by the school. Because of the popularity of the field of psychology, and particularly child psychology, admission requirements are hugely competitive. It is estimated that only 3% of applicants are actually allowed to enroll. To set yourself apart, you should:

  • Maintain a high GPA.
  • Complete the GRE/GMAT examination to a high standard.
  • Assist in research projects.
  • Take on positions in which you have direct interaction with children and their psychology.
  • Obtain excellent professional, personal, and academic references.

The next thing you have to do is choose what you actually want to study. In order for a program to be accredited by the American Psychological Association, it must offer at least a core curriculum that is similar across the board. Besides the core courses, however, you should also choose elective courses that meet your personal interests and requirements. Common elective courses include:

  • Children, adolescents, and family dynamics
  • Cognitive, spiritual, cultural, social, neurological, and emotional factors
  • School psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Clinical child psychology
  • Post-secondary child psychology education

It is very important to look into those particular elective concentrations as they will drive your future career in the field of child psychology.

A final thing to look into before choosing your program is what is required for graduation. Usually, a Ph.D. degree will require you to submit an independent piece of unique research through thesis and defend this at the end. For the Psy.D., you may also have to submit a thesis, although not as in depth, as well as having to complete a practicum. The exact requirements will vary depending on the school.