Youth Psychologist Overview
|Degree Level||Doctoral degree required; educational specialist (Ed.S) or doctoral degree in school psychology required for school psychologists|
|Degree Field||Child psychology or related field|
|Experience||1-3 years of experience in the field|
|Licensing/Certification||State license required to practice; certification optional but common|
|Key Skills||Strong verbal and written communication, analytical, and observational skills; ability to connect with adolescents|
|Salary||$76,040 (2015 average for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014), ONET OnLine, American Psychological Association
Youth psychologists, more commonly known as child psychologists, analyze and assist children and adolescents who are struggling with psychological and psychosocial challenges, such as peer pressure, family relationships, body image issues, divorce, and school. Youth psychologists might be employed by schools or they might work for the government. Some of these professionals also work from in private practice and the majority work full-time. This career can be emotionally draining at times, since youth psychologists work directly with children who are dealing with difficult issues. Youth psychologists need strong verbal and written communication skills, analytical skills and observational skills, as well as an ability to connect with adolescents. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, clinical, counseling and school psychologists made a mean annual salary of $76,040 as of May 2015. Let's look at the steps required to become a youth psychologist.
Bachelor's and Master's Degrees
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Although a bachelor's program in psychology can provide the foundation for graduate studies, only a minority of graduate schools require an undergraduate degree specifically in psychology. Students who do choose to major in psychology are likely to take introductory courses in developmental psychology, abnormal child psychology, social psychology and cognitive psychology. Students also might take courses in counseling and research methods.
Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree
It's common for students to go directly from a bachelor's program to a doctoral program. However, individuals interested in school psychology might decide to pursue a master's degree and an Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degree instead of a doctorate. In addition, some doctoral programs require that students have a master's degree. According to the American Psychological Association, students who earn a master's degree are more likely to complete a doctoral program than those who don't obtain a master's degree first.
Step 3: Earn a Doctoral Degree
Individuals planning to work as school psychologists should specialize in school psychology. Students can find accredited programs that combine clinical psychology with coursework in school psychology. Graduates should be eligible for licensing and certification as school psychologists. Students seeking to become practicing psychologists should pursue a Psy.D., instead of a research-based Ph.D., taking coursework in child and adolescent psychotherapy, assessment techniques and psychopathology, among other courses. Students will likely have to complete a dissertation as well as a 1-year practicum as requirements for graduation.
Step 4: Gain Supervised Experience
In addition to a 1-year practicum as part of a doctoral program, most psychologists need up to two years of supervised experience before they're eligible for licensure to practice on their own. It can be a challenge for students to find supervised positions immediately after graduating. Some opt for a fellowship that includes the required hours of work to become licensed. In addition, graduates can use resources available from the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers or the Veterans Administration.
Some organizations allow graduates to bank their educational and experiential information to serve as a single area for licensing requirements. Banking credentials may also make it easier for psychologists planning to become licensed in a different state.
Licensure and Certification
Step 5: Become Licensed and Certified
States have varying requirements for earning a license. In general, individuals are licensed based on education, training and successful completion of an exam. Most states require applicants to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) and may require an additional state-based exam. It may also be necessary to complete specific coursework related to substance abuse or child abuse. Voluntary specialty certifications are awarded by the American Board of Professional Psychology in 13 areas of psychology. Certification requires a credentials review, peer-reviewed Practice Samples and successful completion of an oral exam.
School psychologists typically must be licensed by their state's department of education. In most states, aspiring school psychologists can meet licensing requirements by becoming certified by the National Association of School Psychologists in 30 states.
Step 6: Maintain Certification and Licensure
Many states require psychologists to participate in continuing education to maintain licensing and continuing education credits are also required to keep one's certification. Continuing education is offered by professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association and the American Board of Professional Psychology. School psychologists can earn continuing education credits through the National Association of School Psychologists. In addition to maintaining licensure and certification, continuing education may also open doors to career advancement through the new knowledge, experience and skills acquired in these courses.
In summary, youth psychologists typically hold an Education Specialist or doctoral degree. They need to gain supervised experience before seeking state licensure, and voluntary certification is available.