The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists will increase by 14% from 2016 to 2026, roughly double the rate of job growth for the rest of the economy. Marriage and family therapists should enjoy even stronger job prospects, with the BLS projecting a 23% increase in demand for these professionals over the same time period.
A bachelor's degree can qualify you for some entry-level roles in education and child services. However, most clinical positions in child and adolescent psychology require at least a master's degree. You may also need to complete an internship, on-the-job training, or some other form of supervised clinical experience.
This page provides an overview of child psychology careers, including additional information on educational and licensure requirements, salary potential, and advice on finding a job after graduation. It also features an interview with a licensed professional counselor who specializes in working with adolescents.
Skills Gained in a Child and Adolescent Psychology Degree Program
Child and adolescent psychology degree programs prepare you for a wide variety of roles and responsibilities. For example, as a school psychologist, you may need to develop education performance plans for special needs students. As a mental health counselor, you may focus on helping young people cope with trauma, low self-esteem, or suicidal impulses. Most individuals who work with children and adolescents also develop professional skills through internships and other supervised experiences in clinical settings.
- Observational Skills
- Both school-based and clinical psychologists must know how to observe behaviors and attitudes to develop a better understanding of clients' unspoken needs. This requires an understanding of body positions, facial expressions, gestures and other physical actions, 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 Analytical Skills
- 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 or doctoral level, psychology programs often include coursework in areas like qualitative and quantitative methods, research design, and assessment.
- Diagnostic Skills
- Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat mental illnesses in children and young adults. They need to be able to analyze their patient's symptoms and medical history to identify underlying issues. While classroom learning acquaints students with a range of potential disorders and their signs, diagnostic skills are usually developed in clinical settings through real-world experience.
- Resource Facilitation Skills
- Individuals who work with children often must refer families to additional resources such as housing assistance, specialized mental health support, or 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, if necessary, advocate for an expansion of resources or funding.
Why Pursue a Career in Child and Adolescent Psychology?
Child and adolescent psychology careers allow you to help some of the most vulnerable members of society. While the work is often difficult and emotionally trying, it can also be very rewarding and personally fulfilling.
In addition, many jobs in this field offer exceptional salaries. For example, according to the BLS, clinical, counseling, and school psychologists earned a median salary of $76,990 in 2018, roughly double the median pay for all other occupations. Marriage and family therapists, mental health professionals, and school counselors all earned significantly more than the national median salary as well.
Finally, careers in child and adolescent psychology often provide opportunities for advancement. After earning your degree and working for several years, you may pursue leadership roles in nonprofit management or health administration. Later in their careers, some psychologists transition into private practice, gaining the freedom to set their own hours and work with specific clientele.
How Much Do Child and Adolescent Psychology Graduates Make?
Your earning potential as a child and adolescent psychology major depends on several factors. According to PayScale, the average salary for a child psychologist is $68,712. However, if you choose to live in an urban area, you may earn a higher salary than you would in a more rural setting. Jobs at larger institutions, such as hospitals or state agencies, typically pay more than those at smaller organizations like schools and community health centers. The degree you earn and your level of professional experience also play a role in shaping your compensation.
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 also 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?
Upon graduating with my master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, 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 ever changing. This means I have to stay up to date on the trends and the issues. Each presenting problem is unique, and therefore, where 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. But, 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, though. 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Be confident and willing to grow. It’s easy to get into the 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!
How to Succeed in Child and Adolescent Psychology
While you may qualify for some entry-level roles with just an associate degree, most positions in education, social service, and psychology require at least a bachelor's degree.
If you hope to become a school psychologist or school counselor, you may also need to earn a master's. Graduate programs in adolescent and child psychology offer more advanced instruction in subjects like cognitive processes and the ethics of professional practice. In addition, they typically feature a field-based component.
Finally, if you want to diagnose and treat mental illnesses as a clinical psychologist, you must possess a state-level license. While exact requirements vary, nearly all states require psychologist licensure candidates to hold a doctoral degree.
Experience requirements vary considerably from job to job. For instance, you may find work as a substance abuse counselor or social service assistant directly after earning your bachelor's degree.
To become a therapist, school counselor, or clinical psychologist, you must first earn a state-issued license or certification. Most states require licensure candidates to complete anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 hours of postdegree training or work under the direction of a licensed counselor or psychologist.
When looking to fill supervisory and managerial roles, most organizations prefer to hire candidates with several years of relevant experience.
Licensure and Certification
States typically mandate that therapists and counselors earn a license or certification to practice. The licensure process usually requires earning a master's degree, passing an exam, completing a period of supervised experience, and participating in ongoing professional development opportunities.
In most states, any individual using the title "psychologist" must hold a doctoral degree, complete both an internship and residency, and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards provides more specific information on each state's requirements.
Some psychology professionals also seek voluntary certification to demonstrate their expertise in a particular field. For example, the American Board of Professional Psychology offers credentials in 15 disciplines including clinical child and adolescent psychology.
What Can You Do With a Child and Adolescent Psychology Degree?
Earning a degree in child and adolescent psychology opens the door to many career paths. 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-level 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, such as executive director of a youth service organization or head of a state child welfare agency.
If you have a doctoral degree, you can apply for a license as a clinical or counseling psychologist. Some individuals also pursue a doctorate in order to teach, conduct research, or hold 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 consist of 120 credits, and most full-time students graduate in four years. In these programs, learners typically explore topics such as the psychology of learning, child development, and pediatric neuropsychology.
Many colleges and universities also require or strongly recommend that students complete an internship or other field-based experience during their undergraduate studies. While earning a bachelor's does not prepare you for clinical or counseling roles, it does open up a variety of entry-level professional opportunities in education, public policy, and business.
- 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 or rehabilitation facilities. They may also educate communities about the warning signs of addiction.
Average Annual Salary: $44,630
- 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 and their families have the resources and support needed to avoid recidivism.
Average Annual Salary: $53,020
- 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 whether children are being raised in safe environments.
Average Annual Salary: $33,750
- 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 certification.
Average Annual Salary: $57,980
- Preschool Teacher
Preschool teachers educate and care for children in pre-K. Their main focus is supporting the development of students' motor, social, and language skills. Increasingly, preschool teachers need a bachelor's degree to qualify for positions at public schools or federal Head Start learning centers.
Average Annual Salary: $29,780
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, with most programs consisting of 30-60 credits.
Students begin their graduate studies with core classes in areas like developmental psychology, social psychology, and cognitive processes. They advance into more specialized coursework, 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 elect to write a research-based thesis. Those who want to work as a mental health counselor may instead opt to complete a supervised internship or practicum.
- 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, or suicidal ideation.
Average Annual Salary: $44,630
- Marriage or Family Therapist
Marriage and family therapists help people navigate issues related to marriage, family, 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.
Average Annual Salary: $50,090
- 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.
Average Annual Salary: $56,310
- 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 programming, 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.
Average Annual Salary: $65,320
- 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. Graduate study in child and adolescent psychology may give a competitive edge to candidates applying for jobs at private psychiatric practices or youth health centers.
Average Annual Salary: $99,730
Doctoral Degree in Child and Adolescent Psychology
You must have 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 help position you for leadership roles in large healthcare organizations or government agencies. Finally, most colleges and universities prefer to hire faculty with a doctorate in their area of expertise.
Doctoral programs typically start with three 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. Afterward, they develop a proposal, conduct original research, and write and defend a dissertation, with the entire process taking another 1-4 years to complete.
- Clinical Psychologist
Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat various mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders such as depression or schizophrenia. They often specialize in working with a specific demographic such as 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.
Average Annual Salary: $76,990
- Postsecondary Teacher, Psychology
Postsecondary psychology teachers instruct students and conduct research at colleges and universities. Many also hold administrative responsibilities including chairing a psychology department, overseeing the hiring of new faculty members, or participating in the student admission process. While some community colleges may hire instructors with just a master's, most of these careers require a doctorate.
Average Annual Salary: $76,710
- 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 your job prospects when applying for senior leadership positions.
Average Annual Salary: $104,980
Where Can You Work With a Child and Adolescent Psychology Degree?
After earning a degree in child and adolescent psychology, you can work in many different fields. 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.
Where you live can greatly shape your career path. For example, child and adolescent psychologists working in large urban areas may benefit from stronger job prospects and higher salaries than those in more rural settings. They may also have better access to continuing education opportunities such as graduate programs at a university or in-person trainings offered by professional associations.
Conversely, psychologists in smaller communities often enjoy a lower cost of living, which may offset any salary differences. The map below illustrates how salaries and job opportunities differ from state to state.
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. Those 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.
- Community Mental Health Centers
- Community mental health centers provide direct care to individuals dealing with issues like depression, anxiety, grief, or stress. They often serve as a first point of contact, referring patients to specialists or other treatment options as needed.
- Behavior Intervention Services
- Behavioral intervention service organizations typically offer treatment and support for specific developmental disabilities. For example, they may serve young children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder.
- Public K-12 Education
- By law, public schools must provide accommodation to special needs students. They often hire child and adolescent psychologists and counselors to identify and address a range of social, emotional, and mental issues.
- Many clinical and counseling psychologists work at hospitals, at health clinics, and in private psychiatric practices. They typically work directly with patients, diagnosing and treating mental illnesses. Nonlicensed professionals may connect patients with outside resources or help them understand their treatment plans.
- This industry encompasses all educators and academics working outside of public K-12 school settings. It includes postsecondary teachers, some research psychologists, nonprofit program administrators, and private school teachers and counselors.
How Do You Find a Job as a Child and Adolescent Psychology Graduate?
You can find openings on employment search engines like Indeed and SimplyHired, but you should also search job boards hosted by organizations that specifically serve child and adolescent psychology professionals. In addition, grow and utilize your professional network and attend career events organized by your college's alumni office or your local chamber of commerce. Finally, depending on the degree you have earned, you may benefit from earning a professional certification to further demonstrate your skills and expertise.
Professional Resources for Child and Adolescent Psychology Majors
Serving approximately 118,000 psychology practitioners, researchers, educators and students, APA is the largest psychology professional association in the U.S. Its members can access career advice and job listings, attend research conferences and networking events, and review research on issues specific to child and adolescent psychology, such as bullying and the media's influence on youth.
As a division of APA, SCCAP works to improve the mental health and welfare of children, adolescents, and their families. It hosts webinars and other online continuing education resources, publishes both a scholarly journal and monthly newsletter, and organizes special interest groups around topics like gender variance and the transition into adulthood.
AACAP promotes the healthy development of children and the professional interests of child and adolescent psychiatrists. It provides career planning and work-life balance guides to early-career psychiatrists and maintains an online education center with disorder-specific resources. AACAP has also established a code of professional ethics for those working in the field.
NASP represents approximately 25,000 school psychologists, graduate students, and related professionals in the United States and around the world. In addition to offering research guides, policy briefs, a career center, and resources specifically for psychology students, the association administers a national certification program for both members and nonmembers.
ACAC works to ensure that all children have access to comprehensive mental health services, regardless of families' ability to pay. Alongside philanthropic efforts, the association publishes the Journal of Child and Adolescent Counseling, hosts an annual research and networking conference, and publishes a newsletter and blog to disseminate news relevant to youth counselors.
Founded in 1979, AET sets the standards for the professional practice of educational therapy. It convenes a national conference, regional workshops, and study groups for its members. AET also offers professional certification, an online resource library, a profile of career paths in educational therapy, and a searchable listing of professional therapists for parents and educators.
ASCA supports the efforts of counselors working to equip their students with the skills needed to succeed in school and beyond. The association hosts a webinar series, in-person and online trainings in specialized disciplines, and an individual coaching program. It also provides resources on subjects like creating a school-based mentor program and fostering internet safety.
The mission of SRCD is to integrate and advance research related to child and adolescent development. In addition to annual and special topic meetings on subjects such as child abuse and economic inequality, the Society publishes regular research reports, policy briefs, and press updates. Its website also features a career center.
APA boasts more than 38,000 global members working in psychiatric practice, policy, and research. Its learning center provides on-demand access to videos, transcripts, journal articles, and online training modules. It also offers guidance on seeking national board certification in specialties like child and adolescent psychiatry and neurodevelopmental disabilities.
APS advances psychological science through teaching, research, and practice. Each year, the association hosts both a national and international convention. It also publishes six scholarly journals and a magazine specifically for practitioners and policymakers. In addition, members can review job openings and postdoctoral fellowship opportunities through the association's employment and career portal.