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How to Become a Child Psychologist

by Bronwyn Timmons

Child psychologists are professionals who diagnose and treat psychological, emotional and behavioral problems in children and adolescents. From children experiencing their parents' separation or divorce to children who have been victims of abuse and neglect, child psychologists help children sort through their emotions in a healthy way. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, psychologists have a median annual salary of $69,000, with top earners in the field earning $90,000. Becoming a child psychologist is moderately challenging, and strict education and training requirements are in place to maintain the integrity of the profession.

Earn a bachelor's degree in psychology. An undergraduate psychology program will offer courses in introductory psychology, including basic research methods, ethical issues and principles of human behavior. These courses will help you build a strong foundation in the basic principles and concepts of psychology. Some programs may include an optional or required internship that allows students to gain hands-on experience.

Take the Graduate Record Examination, GRE. For entrance to most graduate programs, you'll need to submit your GRE score. The GRE is a standardized test that covers verbal reasoning, analytical writing and quantitative reasoning. The GRE is offered by the Educational Testing Service year-round, but you may only take the test five times in a 12-month time frame. When you take the GRE will depend on when you plan to apply to graduate school, but you should take it no later than six weeks before the grad school application deadline.

Earn a graduate degree in psychology. To become a professional child psychologist, you must earn either a master's or doctoral degree. A master's degree may be acceptable in some settings, but to work in private practice or become board-certified, you need a doctorate. You have the option to earn a Doctor of Philosophy, Ph.D., or a Doctor of Psychology, Psy.D., in psychology. A Ph.D. is a research-based degree that requires completion of a dissertation research paper. A Psy.D. is a clinical degree that requires practical work rather than research. While earning your degree, you have the ability to concentrate your research or work on child psychology to further your specialized career goals.

Complete a supervised internship. Before you can become licensed on your own, you need to spend one to two years working under the direct supervision of a licensed child psychologist. You'll observe the psychologist as he work with patients, and eventually work with patients yourself, while supervised.

Obtain a state-issued license. To go into practice and use the title of "psychologist" you must earn a license issued by the state you reside in. Requirements vary slightly by state, but typically include holding a master's or doctoral degree in psychology and passing an exam.

Earn board certification. To showcase your experience and expertise in the field of child psychology you need to earn board certification from the American Board of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, a specialty board of the American Board of Professional Psychology. Certification requires a doctorate in psychology, being licensed to practice psychology, completion of an approved internship, two years of post-residency experience and passing an exam.

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