Child and Adolescent Psychology Careers

portrait of Heather Mullinix
by Heather Mullinix

Updated August 16, 2022

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How to Become a Child and Adolescent Psychologist

Psychology professionals help clients overcome behavioral, intellectual, and cognitive disorders. Careers in child and adolescent psychology involve evaluating children and young adults for mental health disorders and connecting them with treatment and support services. While clinical licensure requires a doctorate in psychology, child psychology graduates can pursue diverse career opportunities in mental health, research, and education.

This guide offers an overview of educational tracks and explores careers available with a child and adolescent psychology degree. You can gain insight from an interview with a licensed therapist and connect with professional associations listed in the resource section.

www.bestcolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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FAQ's About Child and Adolescent Psychology Careers

Is a degree in child and adolescent psychology worth it?

A degree in child and adolescent psychology prepares you for a career that helps people live happier, healthier lives. The communication, analytical, and problem-solving skills built throughout your coursework are highly important to employers. The BLS projects 3% employment growth between 2019 and 2029 for psychologists.

What kind of jobs can you get with a child and adolescent psychology degree?

Careers for child and adolescent psychology majors are available in areas related to counseling, market research, and academia. Many counseling careers require a master's degree. Additionally, becoming a licensed clinical psychologist requires a doctorate in psychology and a state-issued license.

How much do child and adolescent psychology majors make?

According to the BLS, psychologists earn a median annual salary of $80,370. A worker's education level, industry, and location all impact their salary potential.

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Why Pursue a Career in Child and Adolescent Psychology?

Careers for a child and adolescent psychology major require empathy for the challenges faced by young people. Active listening, interviewing, and verbal communication skills help build connections that encourage patients to share their thoughts and feelings. Psychologists need patience and must build trust with clients to serve them well.

Psychologists also use their problem-solving skills to diagnose disorders. These professionals help clients set goals to unlearn destructive behavior patterns. Psychologists often work as part of a team to help a client, and written and verbal communication skills help build strong interpersonal relationships with patients and team members.

Psychologists must also keep detailed, accurate records and understand their ethical and legal responsibilities.

Skills Gained With a Child and Adolescent Psychology Degree

Child and adolescent psychology programs prepare graduates for many different roles and responsibilities. For example, school psychologists develop education performance plans for students with special needs. Mental health counselors focus on helping young people cope with trauma, low self-esteem, and suicidal impulses.

Most individuals who work with children and adolescents also develop professional skills through internships and supervised clinical experiences.

Both school-based and clinical psychologists must know how to observe behaviors and attitudes to develop a better understanding of clients' unspoken needs. Psychologists must consider body positions, facial expressions, gestures, and social interactions. Psychology students hone these skills by learning best practices and working directly with clients.

Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills allow psychology professionals to gain the trust of clients and collaborate with colleagues, educators, and other human services personnel. To teach students how to build and maintain positive relationships, child and adolescent psychology programs emphasize active listening skills, the importance of an empathetic mindset, and techniques for avoiding implicit bias.

Research and Analysis

Staying current on the latest developments in psychology requires the ability to comprehend and interpret research findings. Many psychologists also analyze raw data to inform their practice or advance their own scholarship. Especially at the master's and doctoral levels, psychology programs often include coursework in areas like qualitative and quantitative methods, research design, and assessment.

Diagnosis

Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat mental illnesses in children and young adults. They must analyze patients' symptoms and medical histories to identify underlying issues. While lectures acquaint students with potential disorders and their signs, learners usually develop diagnostic skills while completing clinical experiences.

Resource Facilitation

Professionals who work with children must often refer families to additional resources like housing assistance, specialized mental health support, and special education programs. In child psychology programs, students learn how to build partnerships with government agencies and community organizations, provide advice on navigating these systems, and advocate for an expansion of resources or funding.

How to Start Your Career in Child and Adolescent Psychology

Earning a degree in child and adolescent psychology opens the door to many career opportunities. With a bachelor's degree, you can work as a social or human service assistant, substance abuse or rehabilitation counselor, or public school teacher.

After completing a master's program, you may qualify for certain positions that require state licensure, such as marriage and family therapist, school or career counselor, and school psychologist. A master's degree may also give you a competitive edge over other candidates when applying for managerial roles.

With a doctoral degree, you can apply for a license as a clinical or counseling psychologist. Some individuals also pursue a doctorate to apply for teaching, research, or senior administrative positions at a college or university.

Bachelor's Degree in Child and Adolescent Psychology

Bachelor's programs in child and adolescent psychology typically require about 120 credits, and full-time students can graduate in four years. In these programs, learners typically explore the psychology of learning, child development, and pediatric neuropsychology.

Many colleges and universities also require or strongly recommend that students complete an internship during their undergraduate studies. While earning a bachelor's does not immediately prepare you for clinical or counseling roles, degree-holders can pursue entry-level opportunities in education, public policy, and business.

What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Child and Adolescent Psychology?

Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse counselors help their clients cope with drug and alcohol addictions. They evaluate patients to determine their readiness for treatment, provide individual and group counseling, and refer clients to resources and services such as 12-step programs and rehabilitation facilities. They may also educate communities about the warning signs of addiction.

Salary: $46,240

Probation Officer or Correctional Treatment Specialist

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists offer assistance to incarcerated individuals and those on probation or parole. Earning a bachelor's in child and adolescent psychology may prepare you to work specifically with juvenile offenders, ensuring that they can access the resources and support needed to avoid recidivism.

Salary: $54,290

Social or Human Service Assistant

Social and human service assistants provide direct care and support to a variety of clients. For example, they may research whether clients qualify for Medicaid or food stamps. They may also conduct home inspections to determine if children live in safe environments.

Salary: $35,060

Kindergarten or Elementary School Teacher

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers instruct children in basic subjects like reading, science, and math. They also play a key role in the early identification of developmental challenges or other special needs. Most states require public school teachers to earn at least a bachelor's degree and a teaching license.

Salary: $59,420

Preschool Teacher

Preschool teachers educate and care for children in pre-K settings. They support the development of students' motor, social, and language skills. Preschool teachers often need a bachelor's degree to qualify for positions at public schools or federal Head Start learning centers.

Salary: $30,520

Source: BLS

Master's Degree in Child and Adolescent Psychology

Earning a master's degree in child and adolescent psychology usually requires 1-2 years of full-time study. Most programs consist of 30-40 credits.

Students begin their graduate studies with core classes in areas like developmental psychology, social psychology, and cognitive processes. They then advance into more specialized courses, analyzing theories and concepts related to intervention strategies for children and abnormal adolescent psychology.

Many programs allow you to choose between research and practice tracks. Learners who hope to advance into a doctoral program may write a research-based thesis. Students who want to work as a mental health counselor may instead complete a supervised internship or practicum.

What Can You Do With a Master's in Child and Adolescent Psychology?

Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors provide treatment to individuals and groups struggling with mental and emotional health issues. A counselor with a master's degree in child and adolescent psychology may specialize in working with young people, helping them address and overcome issues like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, stress, and suicidal ideation.

Salary: $46,240

Marriage or Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists help people navigate issues related to marriage, family, and/or other intimate relationships. They offer support to individuals and couples facing major life changes such as unemployment or divorce. They may also help children process the death of a loved one or cope with the mental health issues of a parent.

Salary: $49,610

School Counselor

School counselors help students develop the skills needed to succeed academically. They often conduct assessments of student abilities and interests, develop plans to address behavioral or social problems, and collaborate closely with other educators and parents. Most states require school counselors to hold a master's degree prior to earning licensure.

Salary: $57,040

Social or Community Service Manager

Social and community service managers lead nonprofit organizations and government agencies such as after-school programs for at-risk youth. While many managers direct and evaluate programs, they must also hire and train staff, develop and oversee budgets, and represent their organizations publicly. The heads of nonprofit organizations typically have extensive fundraising responsibilities.

Salary: $67,150

Medical or Health Service Manager

Medical and health services managers oversee the daily operations of hospitals, clinics, and other health organizations. Many employers prefer to hire healthcare managers with a master's degree. Applicants who hold a master's in child and adolescent psychology may have a competitive edge when applying for jobs at private psychiatric practices or youth health centers.

Salary: $100,980

Source: BLS

Doctoral Degree in Child and Adolescent Psychology

You must earn a doctoral degree to become a licensed clinical, counseling, or research psychologist. A Ph.D. or doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) in child and adolescent psychology may lead to leadership roles in large healthcare organizations or government agencies. Additionally, colleges and universities prefer to hire faculty with a doctorate in their area of expertise.

Doctoral programs typically start with 2-3 years of coursework in subjects like neuropsychology, advanced inferential statistics, and quantitate design and analysis. Students must then pass a comprehensive examination assessing their classroom learning. Finally, they develop a proposal, conduct original research, and write and defend a dissertation; depending on its scope, the entire dissertation process usually takes 2-4 years to complete.

What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Child and Adolescent Psychology?

Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders like depression and schizophrenia. They often specialize in working with a specific demographic, like children or military veterans. Nearly all states require clinical psychologists to earn a doctorate and complete a period of supervised clinical experience prior to applying for licensure.

Salary: $80,370

Postsecondary Teacher, Psychology

Postsecondary psychology teachers instruct students and conduct research at colleges and universities. Many also have administrative responsibilities, such as chairing a psychology department, overseeing the hiring of new faculty members, or participating in the admissions process. While some community colleges may hire instructors with just a master's, most of these careers require a doctorate.

Salary: $76,620

Top Executive

Top executives create and implement organizational strategy. For example, the director of a state child welfare agency may develop home inspection plans and policies, work with the state legislature to secure additional funding, and supervise a team of departmental managers. Though not always required, a doctoral degree may improve job prospects when applying for senior leadership positions.

Salary: $104,690

Source: BLS

Child and Adolescent Psychology Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 3% job growth for psychologists between 2019 and 2029. Schools, hospitals, and government agencies continue to expand mental health services, and careers in child and adolescent psychology continue to grow as society recognizes the importance of mental health for young people.

About 14% of public school students receive special education services, and many of these learners require child and adolescent psychologists' expertise for diagnostic purposes and to help develop individual education plans.

Salaries vary by education, location, and industry, but clinical, counseling, and school psychologists earned a mean annual salary of $87,450, as of May 2019. Elementary and secondary schools employ the most psychologists in this specialty, while the child day care services industry provides the highest mean wage at $120,130.

Average Annual Salary for Child and Adolescent Psychology Careers
Job Title Entry-Level (0-12 months) Early Career (1-4 Years) Midcareer (5-9 Years) Experienced (10-19 Years)
Behavior Therapist $38,640 $39,350 $49,070 $49,670
Mental Health Counselor $39,190 $40,970 $45,530 $49,160
School Counselor $43,900 $46,400 $51,630 $58,700
School Psychologist $54,120 $57,330 $63,610 $70,900

Source: PayScale

Where Can You Work as a Child and Adolescent Psychology Professional?

After earning a degree in child and adolescent psychology, you can work in many different areas. For example, you may want to apply your expertise in child behavior and development to work as an educator. Alternatively, you may wish to work as a counselor, supporting young people through the emotional difficulties of adolescence.

Your professional opportunities largely depend on the type of degree you earn, where you live, and the industry in which you choose to work.

Pyshcology Professional Industries

Child and adolescent psychology graduates work across a variety of fields and industries. Many provide direct care to young people at hospitals, clinics, and community health centers. Others work in school settings, supporting the academic and social development of students.

Psychologists and counselors may work as part of a team of providers helping patients overcome a disability or mental health condition. Psychologists can provide consultations for healthcare providers and direct counseling services. Graduates who earn a master's or doctoral degree may also opt to work independently in private practice.

The table below provides brief summaries of five common industries for child and adolescent psychology professionals in the U.S.

Elementary and Secondary Schools

Elementary and secondary schools need psychologists and counselors to provide mental health services and career and academic coaching for students. Psychologists also diagnose students in need of special education services due to cognitive or developmental disorders.

Average Salary: $80,180

Offices of Physicians

These offices include one physician or a physician group offering comprehensive medical services. Psychologists can provide counseling services as part of a care team.

Average Salary: $95,960

Offices of Other Health Practitioners

Psychologists or counselors may work as part of a team of providers helping patients overcome a disability or mental health condition. Psychologists provide consultations for healthcare providers and direct counseling services.

Average Salary: $100,300

Individual and Family Services

Operated by government agencies or nonprofit organizations, individual and family services provide social services to improve their clients' well-being. Careers for child and adolescent psychology majors in this arena include social worker, human services assistant, and counselor.

Average Salary: $85,140

Outpatient Care Centers

Outpatient care centers may specialize in rehabilitation therapy, addiction treatment, or behavioral counseling. Psychologists can provide individual or group therapy sessions, addiction counseling, and rehabilitation services.

Average Salary: $99,870

Child Psyhcology Careers by State

More than 113,000 clinical, counseling, and school psychologists work in the United States. Among U.S. states, California contains the largest number of these workers (16,960), followed by New York (11,030) and Texas (8,430).

Wages also vary by state. Oregon reported the highest mean salary at $112,010, followed by California ($111,750) and the District of Columbia ($106,900).

State

Interview With a Professional in Child and Adolescent Psychology

Portrait of Laura Braziel

Laura Braziel

Laura Braziel is a licensed professional counselor, marriage and family therapist, and public speaker. She is the owner and counselor of Authentic Relational Counseling, PLLC, a private practice serving the greater Houston area. She has advanced training in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing as well as dialectical behavioral therapy. Laura specializes in helping adolescents and parents of adolescents with issues related to communication, conflict resolution, self-harm, low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in psychology? Was it something you were always interested in?

My interest in psychology began in high school, where I often would find myself being the listening ear and encourager for friends and peers. As an observer of the difficulties my friends had in their families, I began to develop a strong desire to do more than just listen. I wanted to help.

This desire was affirmed through my early experiences in college, where once again I found myself being the "counselor" for friends and even acquaintances. Each encounter left me feeling fulfilled and energized. Each encounter solidified the path I was taking.

What is so valuable about earning a degree in this field right now?

I believe the field of psychology will always be valuable, but even more so now as technology seems to be separating people from the in-person, much-needed encounters that help us thrive. As smartphones have saturated every part of our lives, more and more people are developing anxiety and depression symptoms.

Not only that, but there has also been an increase in bullying and traumas. People don't just get over these issues with time. They need the therapeutic treatment and nonjudgmental understandings that psychology provides.

What did your career trajectory look like after you graduated? How did you end up in your current position?

After graduating with my master's degree in marriage and family therapy and then taking the licensing exams to obtain both my MFT-associate and LPC-intern licenses, I spent about eight months actively seeking employment in the field. No one seemed to want to hire an intern for pay.

My first job was at a partial hospital program (PHP) serving as a group and individual therapist for adults with severe mental illness and drug addictions. I wasn't paid well, but I was able to get hours for licensure. I spent a year at the PHP before transitioning to an inpatient psychiatric hospital, where I worked on the intensive care unit for adults with severe schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.

These were some of the best experiences that boosted my competence to counsel any severity of issue.

I worked at the hospital for a year and a half. During this time, I fulfilled the 3,000 contact hours required for full licensure. I began working evenings and weekends as a contract employee at a group private practice while maintaining my full-time position at the hospital until I had developed enough clients to take a leap of faith and quit the hospital job.

I worked for seven years at the group private practice before opening my own independent practice, where I am now.

What are some of the most challenging aspects of working in child and adolescent psychology? The most rewarding aspects?

Working with young people is challenging because their brains are developing and being influenced by the culture, which is always changing. This means I have to stay up-to-date on the trends and the issues. Each presenting problem is unique. While some treatments are straightforward, others require me to get creative in order to be effective.

Working with young people is also challenging because it means working with their parents. Sometimes parents are involved and will do whatever it takes to support their child's treatment, which can be incredibly rewarding. Other times, parents refuse to participate and expect me to "fix" their child despite the chaos and consistent dysfunction in the home. That presents a significant challenge to my effectiveness with helping their child.

I love working with young people. I find it incredibly rewarding. They are real and genuine. They don't wear all the masks that adults seem to wear. They tell it as they see it, and I respect what they have to say. And when they get better, it's visible! It shows in the home, in school, in their social life, and personally.

What advice would you give to child and adolescent psychology graduates seeking a job after graduation?

  1. Be patient and persistent. If it wasn't hard, anyone would do it. You have a gift and you took the time to cultivate it, so don't give up.
  2. Take whatever job you can, even if it's not what you planned to do. In the beginning, it's just about getting those experience hours for your license. I didn't plan to work with severe mental illness or addictions, but those early experiences removed all "shock factors," and I learned how to be creative, resourceful, and competent despite the challenges of the presenting issues.
  3. Get your continuing education units in areas you are interested in pursuing. Don't waste those required CEUs. The real training is in the field and the education you get alongside it.
  4. Network! Get to know other professionals in your area. You can learn so much from others and have referral sources should a case be beyond your scope of practice.
  5. Be confident and willing to grow. It's easy to get into a career and doubt your abilities.

You have more training than the average person. You won't know everything, and that's OK. The majority of effectiveness is the relationship. Just never stop learning!

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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