What it takes to become a Child Psychologist

Dr. Nancy Irwin is a Doctor of Clinical Psychology. Dr. Irwin is also a certified practitioner of neurolingusitic programming, time line therapy and emotion free therapy, combining these modalities with hypnosis to effect the most rapid change possible in her clients. She graduated from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in Tarzana, California with honors and the Director’s Award.

 “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Congratulations for taking the first step toward your career as a developmental or school psychologist. While the field is ever-changing, like any other, a student can ask some questions about preparing for and entering the rewarding field of psychology. Let’s look at what school psychologists do, how they differ from developmental psychologists, what the educational requirements are for both, and more.

Roughly 80 percent of school psychologists work in public schools, while the rest are employed by private schools, universities, community agencies, hospitals and clinics. With a specialist level degree, a school psychologist can work as a practitioner and/or an administrator (which may require a credential). A doctorate degree will allow a school psychologist to work in both these capacities, as well as in research and/or on a faculty. School psychologists assist teachers in maintaining a safe, healthy educational environment; they consult with parents, explain psych evaluations to parents and student, consult with teachers, staff, and mental health providers regarding learning, social skills, as well as emotional, academic, and behavioral issues. They step in to resolve conflicts, provide parenting skills training, prevent/intervene with bullying issues, substance abuse, and more. Further, they assess special education needs, at-risk students’ needs, and provide individual and/or family counseling. 

Most states require a master’s degree in school psychology, including a 1,200-hour internship. Many people go on to pursue a doctorate in school psychology, which usually entails 5 to 7 years of graduate work, a 1,500-hour internship and a dissertation. There are some states that only require a bachelor’s degree in psychology or education, plus an additional specialist’s-level certification in school psychology. School psychologists’ salaries are typically that of teachers in the same region. Many also have a private practice to supplement their income.

Knowing your long-term goal as a school psychologist can allow you to plan your education and training. Many work as school practitioners while pursuing their doctorates at night and on weekends over the course of several years. Knowing your short-term goals can help you decide what domain you’d like as a specialty: counseling, early childhood, developmental disabilities, research, etc. A list of National Association of School Psychologists approved programs can be found online. You need not have an undergraduate degree in psychology, per se, to become a school psychologist. Many students enter this field with bachelor degrees in education, sociology, child development, and even science. All of these degrees (and many others, e.g., ethnic studies) can provide a solid foundation for school psychology.

Developmental psychologists, on the other hand, study the human developmental stages throughout a lifetime: physiology, cognition, psychology, emotions, sociability, IQ, and personality growth. In general, developmental psychologists evaluate children regarding mental, developmental and emotional issues, language skills, morality, and more. Some specialize in geriatrics, some in early childhood, developmentally delayed children, adolescents, and more.

Developmental psychologists work in colleges and universities, rehabilitation clinics, with the homeless population, in psychiatric clinics, hospitals, and in government agencies. Many combine teaching and researching in educational facilities as well. Most positions require a master’s degree in developmental psychology, yet those who go on to earn a Doctor of Philosophy or Doctor of Psychology will have broader choices of employment opportunities, as well as higher salaries. Salaries for developmental psychologists range from the $50,000 to $100,000 or more, depending on the institution and region.

All education ideally, should be a broadening experience – just the beginning for a student. No need to pressure yourself now if this career will “fit” you for life. Answer whatever calls you now. Everything is a transferable skill. Take that first step, and trust that the answers will be revealed to you. 


Dr. Nancy Irwin (2012)