A doctoral degree in the field of psychology is usually a requirement to work as an independent developmental psychologist, in either a clinical or a counseling capacity. The most frequent doctoral degrees awarded to psychologists are a Ph.D. or, alternatively, a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD).
All 50 states (and the District of Columbia) require that psychologists who operate an independent practice or who treat patients meet rigid certification or licensing requirements after earning their doctoral degree. These requirements vary from state to state, but the most frequent one is to pass an examination before they can begin practicing.
A number of developmental psychologists specializing in child psychology go on to become school psychologists after receiving their certification or license. To qualify for employment in this position, an advanced psychology degree or an education degree is necessary in most states. A few states will accept a master’s degree as a credential for the position of school psychologist, however. (For more detailed information about becoming a school psychologist, please see the section devoted to that profession.)
Most psychological occupations require a doctoral degree. Without an advanced degree, options within this field are severely restricted. A master’s degree qualifies the holder to work as a psychological assistant, or to seek employment in business and industry, or to work under the authority of licensed psychologists and other professionals in such venues as community mental health clinics, psychiatric hospitals, vocational rehabilitation facilities, or correctional programs, or as a research assistant for a licensed psychologist. With only a bachelor’s degree in psychology, the individual is restricted essentially to the role of assistant.
Developmental psychology focuses on the changes that occur in human psychology during every phase of life, from infancy to elderly; from pediatrics to geriatrics. Within this all-encompassing field, a psychologist can choose to specialize in any number of subcategories. One of these is the psychology of childhood or adolescence. There are numerous sub-specializations within this discipline as well, in both research and clinical application, where one can apply this interest in early development and child psychology. These include educational psychology, the study of how psychological and sociological factors such as race and gender affect learning, as well as school psychology. School psychologists work in elementary and secondary schools, both public and private. They provide guidance for children with learning, behavioral, or personal problems; assess, test, and counsel students; evaluate and assist in developing learning strategies for both gifted and disabled students; and provide consultation to parents, teachers and students. Most school districts employ a psychologist in a full-time role.
In addition to degrees and training, the successful child psychologist will possess a number of essential interpersonal qualities. The psychologist who moves into the realm of research needs objectivity, detachment, and a sharp eye for detail, for example. Counselors and clinical psychologists involved in therapy, treatment, and patient care should possess and exhibit emotional stability and excellent communication and social skills, as well as compassion and empathy. The developmental psychologist working with children also requires a substantial amount of patience.
Although no specific figures are available for the number of developmental psychologists in the U.S., the Department of Labor reports that in 2004 there were approximately 179,000 psychologists operating in all fields of the discipline. A quarter of all jobs in the field of psychology were in educational institutions, including grade schools and high schools.
The Labor Department also projects that employment prospects for psychologists in general are expected to be good to excellent, well into the next decade. They further indicate that, given an increasing understanding and appreciation of how a student’s state of mind affects learning, the position of school psychologist will be one of the fastest-growing employment opportunities in the entire field.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2004, the median annual salary of school psychologists working in elementary and secondary schools was $58,360. The best paying jobs in psychology, and the greatest range of jobs, are of course available to individuals who hold doctoral degrees.