Child Psychiatry Career Information and Education Requirements

Sep 12, 2019

Becoming a child psychiatrist is not the only career option for someone interested in child psychology. School psychologists and child and family social workers also work in child psychology, but do not require a doctorate in medicine to practice. No matter the career, certification and licensure is required, although the requirements vary per state.

Essential Information

During child psychology degree programs, students receive in-depth instruction on identifying the basic processes of physical, mental and emotional development in children, as well as factors that can lead to behavioral issues. Psychology students working toward a career in child psychiatry learn to assess behavioral problems and developmental disabilities. Typical courses may include psychology as a profession, basic research methods in psychology, child psychology, behavior analysis, social and personal development, and cognitive processes. Many careers associated with child psychology often require professionals to earn graduate and postgraduate degrees, and in some cases professionals must be licensed. Supervised clinical training with patients may also be a requirement for this field.

Career Titles Child Psychiatrist School Psychologist Child, Family and School Social Worker
Education Requirements Doctorate in medicine (M.D.); completion of a child psychiatry fellowship training program Doctorate degree; education specialist degree or a master's degree Master's degree
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 7% (for physicians and surgeons) 14% 7%
Median Salary (2018)* $208,000 (for physicians and surgeons) $76,990 $46,270

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Although the most obvious career path for child psychology graduates would be to become a child psychiatrist, there are other related options for graduates to consider. For example, for individuals who do not want to go on to medical school, they can pursue other graduate degree programs that train people to become school psychologists or child and family social workers.

Child Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists assist patients with behavioral or emotional disorders by conducting individual or group counseling sessions and, in many cases, by prescribing medication to treat emotional problems caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Professionals with a background in child psychiatry perform these duties for patients ranging in ages from toddlers to adolescents. Child psychiatrists address issues such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), generalized anxiety disorder, Tourette's syndrome, and eating disorders. Professionals counsel patients and their family members to determine long-term and short-term goals and to decide when psychiatric medication may be appropriate or necessary. Child and adolescent psychiatrists can work in government agencies, court settings, hospitals, schools, outpatient centers or private practices.

Since child psychiatry is a medical field, future practitioners must complete an M.D. program at an accredited medical school. After students complete four years of post-graduate medical training, they must specialize in child psychiatry by completing a two-year child and adolescent psychiatric training fellowship program. Prior to medical school, however, individuals can earn bachelor's degrees in psychology or child psychology. In addition, many bachelor's degree programs in the natural sciences or health-related majors meet education prerequisites for medical school.

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, child psychiatrists must be certified in general psychiatry, which allows them to take on patients of all ages; however, they can focus their practice on any specific age group. Licensure as a child psychiatrist requires passing the psychiatric board examination. As child psychiatrists are physicians, they must also meet all state-mandated licensure requirements for physicians.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) makes job growth projections for most career fields, but since psychiatrists are identified in the larger category of physicians and surgeons, exact job growth rates for child psychiatrists are not listed. Nevertheless, open positions for physicians and surgeons in general are expected to grow by 7% between 2018 and 2028, per the BLS. In 2018, salary statistics reported by the BLS indicated that physicians and surgeons in general, including child psychiatrists, earned a median annual salary of $208,000.

School Psychologist

Psychologists try to figure out why people behave in certain ways and how people react in different relationships. Those who specialize in school psychology typically observe and evaluate children, their families, and educators. School psychologists may counsel students and their families concerning problems with behavior or potential learning disabilities. Professionals may also communicate with teachers to discuss ways to improve teaching methodologies and curriculum design, especially to enhance the psychological well-being of children.

There are many educational pathways that may prepare people for employment and licensure. A doctorate degree in psychology (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Psychology (Psych.D) degree are fairly common options, but these programs take the longest to complete, often require clinical internships, and students must complete lengthy dissertations as part of the graduation process. Another educational pathway option is the terminal degree known as the Education Specialist degree (Ed.S.). This graduate-level program takes longer to earn than a master's degree, but less time to earn than a doctorate degree. However, this program does require students to complete a supervised clinical internship of around 1,200 hours. A master's degree in child psychology or school psychology may be adequate enough to meet education and training requirements for licensure, but most employers prefer higher degrees.

Licensure is a requirement for all psychologists, but the licensure requirements vary based on field of specialty. Each state has different requirements in terms of education and training, but nearly all states require license applicants to have fulfilled their training requirements by completing residency programs or supervised internship experiences. According to the BLS, school psychologists must be certified in their area of specialty, and they can obtain such certification from the American Board of Professional Psychology.

During the 2018-2028 decade, the BLS predicted that the rate of job growth for school psychologists would increase by 14%. Candidates with work experience or training as well as those who possess specialty degrees or doctorate degrees are expected to find employment more quickly. In 2018, the median annual salary for clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $76,990.

Child and Family Social Worker

Social workers in general identify at-risk individuals and help those people better utilize social services. Professionals often specialize, and child and family social workers focus on helping children and their families gain access to programs and services that could improve their quality of life. For instance, these social workers may help parents find employment so that the parents can provide a better life for their children. Social workers may also assist parents or children with applying for government aid programs. Other duties may include assessing the living conditions of a child's home, identifying signs of neglect or abuse, assisting children in foster care, or providing parents with assistance during the adoption process.

Although a bachelor's degree in social work may help individuals land entry-level positions, professionals who specialize in child and family or in school related social work often require master's degrees. Since there are so many different types of social workers, certification and licensure requirements vary significantly. In some instances, prospective child and family social workers may need to complete supervised clinical training hours to meet state licensure requirements.

The BLS predicted that, between 2018 and 2028, open positions for all social workers would grow at a rate of 11%, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. The subfield of child, family and school social workers is expected to see an average growth rate of 7%, per the BLS. In 2018, the BLS reported that child, family and school social workers earned an median annual salary of $46,270.

Child psychiatrists work with children's behavioral and emotional disorders and require a doctorate of medicine before being certified and licensed to practice. School psychologists work to understand the 'why' behind student behavior and must complete either a doctorate in psychology or an education specialist degree. Social workers who specialize in child and family related social work require a master's degree to find a job, and they work on providing children and families access to programs and services when they are in need.

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