Clinical child psychology is a competitive graduate-level specialty offered at the master's, doctoral and post-doctoral levels. Completion of master's and doctoral programs in this field typically requires a final research project, thesis or dissertation.
Most employment opportunities for clinical child psychologists require a master's or doctoral degree. To become licensed, a doctoral or specialist degree is often required, although a master's degree is sufficient for licensing for a few types of practice.
Master's in Clinical Child Psychology
Master's degree programs in clinical child psychology prepare students for a career in clinical child psychology through a combination of theoretical coursework, clinical practica and research experience. These programs typically take a two-year period to complete. Prospective master's students should complete a bachelor's degree program, preferably with a focus on psychology. This concentration will ensure that students have taken the necessary science and social science classes. Master's-level clinical child psychologists may conduct research under the supervision of a doctoral-level psychologist, or they may become licensed child or school counselors. Those looking to begin their own practice will also need to be licensed by their state. Requirements for licensure vary by state, but generally include a comprehensive exam and continued and ongoing education.
Coursework generally consists of elective psychology classes, classes with a concentration in child psychology and practicum classes with real-world research or counseling experience. Additionally, students will usually need to complete a thesis or research project under the guidance of a selected group of professors. Regular coursework may include the following:
- Ethics in psychology
- Emotional development
- Research design
- Practicum in child psychology
- Behavioral assessment of children
- Cognitive assessment of children
Doctorate in Clinical Child Psychology
Admission to a doctoral program in clinical child psychology can be highly competitive, so it's important that the applicant have a bachelor's degree in psychology with respectable undergraduate grade point average and GRE scores. Schools usually offer a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (Ph.D.) or, more recently, a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) A Ph.D. generally prepares students to become researchers or instructors of clinical child psychology. A Psy.D. program focuses on training students to become practicing clinical child psychologists. The majority of clinical child psychologists have earned a doctorate in the field. Earning this degree usually takes four to six years. Courses are an extension of the master's requirements, but will entail more practical experience and research. Courses may include the following:
- History of psychology
- Doctoral research
- Assessment and diagnosis
- Intellectual assessment of children
- Therapeutic interventions
- Child psychopathology
Certificate Program in Child Mental Health
Certificate programs generally are available for post-doctoral candidates looking to continue their focus on children's mental health or those looking to change from another specialization to a specialization in child psychology. These programs help practicing clinicians to better diagnose and treat common childhood mental disorders. Most certificate programs in child psychology require applicants to already possess a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology or a related track and may require professional experience. Coursework in a certificate program will focus on advanced child behaviors. Classes may include the following:
- Family counseling
- Child neuropsychology
- Developmental psychotherapy
- Attachment theory
- Psychopharmacology for children
Popular Career Options
Most students working toward a master's degree will also pursue licensure. The following career options generally will require further certification or licensing.
- Psychology instructor
- Child counselor
- School counselor
Those holding a Ph.D. or Psy.D. and a corresponding certificate in child mental health will be able to teach at the university level, as well as be able to practice in the field of clinical child psychology. Job options may include the following:
- School psychologist
- Clinical child psychology professor
- Clinical child psychologist
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that employment of clinical, school and counseling psychologists will grow at a much faster-than-average rate of 20% from 2014 to 2024 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported that the median yearly salary for these workers was $70,580 as of May 2015.
Programs in clinical child psychology are available at the master's, doctoral and post-doctoral certificate levels, with certificate programs being offered to post-doctoral candidates seeking further specialization. Holding a master's degree is sufficient for licensure as a counselor, but working as a psychologist, conducting independent research or teaching at the university-level requires a doctorate.