What does a child psychologist do?

A child psychologist is a mental health professional who specialises in child development, from the womb to adolescence. They work with children and adolescents from various backgrounds with specific mental health, behavioural, emotional and developmental problems. They can also help children cope with difficult situations, such as divorce, grief, changing schools and trauma.

Child psychologists use their expert knowledge and research to identify the root causes of patients’ issues and assess/observe their behaviour and symptoms to provide the necessary support and treatment. They use various techniques, therapies and treatments to help patients to overcome their difficulties and challenges. They also work with parents, other family members and guardians to help them understand child psychology.

A child psychologist can work in general child psychology or specialise in different areas, such as depression, anxiety, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, aggression and other conditions. They can also work in specific roles, such as education, clinical, counselling or development psychology. Therefore, what a child psychologist does will depend on who they work with and their specialisms.

A child psychologist’s main aim is to help children with their mental or behavioural problems so they can make positive changes to lead happier lives as they go into adulthood. Overall, they have an essential role in improving the health and well-being of children and adolescents in our society and can even save lives.

Child psychologists will have many duties, including conducting research, consulting with patients and families, observing and assessing behaviours, understanding behaviours and reactions, using various tools and techniques, liaising with other professionals, training trainees, attending events, etc. The role will also have an element of administrative work, such as maintaining confidential records and writing reports.

Child psychologists can work one-to-one with patients or family groups. They can work with many people, including doctors, GPs, mental health nurses, special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs), family therapists, psychiatric nurses, paediatric nurses, paediatric psychiatrists, social workers, other psychologists, other specialists, other healthcare teams, parents/guardians, other family members, teachers, postgraduates, health visitors, youth workers, support staff, etc.

A child psychologist can work for many different-sized organisations. They may work for large organisations, e.g. the NHS and local authorities, or smaller companies, such as private clinics or charities. Some child psychologists may choose to have their own practice and become self-employed or work through recruitment agencies.

Child psychologists can work in various settings, such as NHS or private hospitals, residential childcare facilities, youth offenders institutes, schools, clinics, healthcare centres, community venues, children’s homes and even their own homes or practices. However, most will work in offices in various healthcare settings.

Responsibilities

Child psychologists’ responsibilities will depend on many factors, including their role, who they work for, where they work and the area in which they specialise.

Some examples of their day-to-day duties may include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Researching child and adolescent behaviour.
  • Consulting with patients, parents, other family members and guardians.
  • Identifying patterns in learning and behavioural development issues.
  • Observing and assessing children’s behaviour and actions using various cognitive testing techniques.
  • Using knowledge, training and expertise to understand children’s behaviours and reactions.
  • Using the necessary techniques and tools to encourage children to communicate, e.g. games and drawing.
  • Staging interventions where required.
  • Creating treatment plans for patients.
  • Liaising and collaborating with other healthcare and educational professionals.
  • Educating parents, guardians and other family members on how to treat or help their child.
  • Training and supervising trainees and other staff.
  • Attending various events, such as meetings, conferences, workshops and seminars.
  • Delivering presentations.
  • Keeping confidential records, e.g. progress and treatment.

Working hours

A child psychologist can expect to work 35-40 hours a week, usually 9am-5pm (Monday-Friday). However, some work evenings or weekends for events, training or appointments.

Flexible work is possible for some child psychologists, e.g. part-time hours or a job share. There are even working-from-home opportunities or hybrid jobs with particular roles. Some may be self-employed or work on temporary contracts.

Travel may be necessary for some child psychologists, i.e. those who work in the community. There may be a requirement to cover others in other areas, and there may also be opportunities to work overseas.

What to expect

Being a child psychologist and helping children with various problems is extremely rewarding. Individuals can go home at the end of the working day knowing they are helping make a difference in their patients’ and families’ health, happiness and well-being. In some cases, their interventions can save lives.

The role would suit individuals with a passion for helping children and an interest in mental health. They will need to keep up to date on current research and understand the needs of each patient they see. Using knowledge learnt and seeing children progress and lead happier lives can be fulfilling.

There are child psychology jobs available nationally, and there are many different areas in which to specialise and various settings to work in. The salary is also good, especially if employed in the NHS or privately.

Being self-employed, working from home, and having control of your own patients can benefit some individuals if they decide to have their own practice. They can work around their own needs, and it reduces the need to travel. Also, being your own boss can be exciting and fulfilling.

Boredom will never be a problem for child psychologists, as their patients and work can be varied. They will see and try to help many different children with various issues. One appointment may involve helping a child with depression, and the next, supporting a teenager with a condition such as ADHD. Of course, this will depend on a child psychologist’s specialist area.

Even though being a child psychologist is rewarding, and there are many positives associated with the role, they may also face challenges, for example:

  • Degree required and costs – individuals will need an undergraduate and postgraduate degree to become a child psychologist, which can take many years to complete. Degree programmes are also costly, and individuals may need to apply for a student loan.
  • High workload – some child psychologists have multiple caseloads and will see many patients during the day, which can be stressful. There is also a significant amount of administrative work involved in the role, e.g. writing or typing notes. They must juggle different demands, and work schedules can often be erratic.
  • Work-related violence – child psychologists can face verbal and physical abuse when working with children and adolescents with mental health and behavioural problems.
  • Mental demands – the role can be emotionally demanding, as they deal with patients with various behavioural problems and mental health conditions. They will also interact with their parents and other family members. It is not easy seeing children struggling to cope with what is going on in their lives. Child psychologists may deal with distressing cases, and some children may be challenging. It can also be frustrating if patients are not progressing as anticipated.

 

Every career choice has pros and cons, and prospective child psychologists must know what to expect before deciding whether it is a suitable role. Working in child psychology is challenging, mentally demanding and stressful. However, there are many positives and helping children and their families is very fulfilling. In some cases, it can actually save lives.

When considering whether to be a child psychologist, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the necessary personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.

Personal qualities needed to be a child psychologist

Some of the personal qualities that a child psychologist requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • A passion for helping children and adolescents.
  • Knowledge of healthcare, mental health and psychology.
  • Knowledge of related legislation and standards.
  • Knowledge of health and safety.
  • Knowledge of equality and diversity.
  • Knowledge of confidentiality, data protection and the GDPR.
  • Having a caring attitude, sensitivity, empathy and understanding.
  • Having confidence, patience, tolerance and a reassuring manner.
  • Having a non-judgemental approach.
  • Having self-awareness, including examination of own thoughts and values.
  • Excellent interpersonal skills, i.e. able to deal with patients and other healthcare professionals.
  • Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal.
  • Excellent counselling and active listening skills.
  • Observational skills.
  • Research, investigation and analytical skills.
  • Good time management.
  • Being motivated and committed to helping children.
  • Being positive.
  • Being open-minded.
  • Being thorough and having attention to detail.
  • Being flexible and open to change.
  • The ability to work both in a team and alone using own initiative.
  • The ability to look, identify and understand all behavioural problems.
  • The ability to communicate and interact with children of all ages.
  • The ability to understand children’s behaviour and reactions.
  • The ability to challenge positively.
  • The ability to be resilient in emotionally demanding situations.
  • The ability to gain children’s trust, respect and confidence.
  • The ability to develop relationships and build rapport.
  • The ability to accept criticism.
  • The ability to work well under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
  • The ability to use IT equipment and software competently.
  • The ability to follow policies, procedures, instructions and risk assessments.

Qualifications and training

Qualifications

To become a child psychologist, individuals need an undergraduate and postgraduate degree.

Undergraduate degree

Individuals wanting to become chartered child psychologists must complete a British Psychological Society (BPS) accredited undergraduate degree.

If individuals do not want to be chartered, they could undertake an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject, such as (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Psychology (on its own or combined with other subjects, e.g. child development).
  • Education.
  • Health and Social Care.
  • Childcare.
  • Counselling.
  • Nursing.
  • Social Work.
  • Sociology.

 

Undergraduate degrees can take between three to four years full-time and up to six years part-time.

Individuals typically need three good A Levels or equivalent to get on to an undergraduate degree.

The entry requirements and the number of UCAS points needed will depend on each university, and individuals should check before applying.

Some institutions may also invite applicants for an interview as part of the selection process.

Postgraduate degree

Once an individual has their undergraduate degree, they must complete a postgraduate degree to practise as a child psychologist, such as a Master’s (MSc).

Some examples of courses include:

  • MSc Applied Child Psychology.
  • MSc Child Psychology.
  • MSc Family and Child Psychology.
  • MSc Psychology of Child and Adolescent Development.

 

If they want to go down the chartered route, they need a BPS-accredited postgraduate degree or a psychology conversion course if:

  • Their psychology degree is not accredited by the BPS.
  • They have a degree in a subject other than psychology.

 

They must also gain Graduate membership (GMBPsS) status.

Master’s usually take around one year full-time and two years part-time.

Individuals will typically need a 2:1 or 2:2 in a relevant undergraduate degree subject or equivalent for a postgraduate degree. Some institutions may accept individuals with lower qualifications if they can demonstrate relevant work experience.

Individuals may need further postgraduate studies, such as a doctorate, e.g. Educational and Child Psychology.

Other courses

A degree is required to become a child psychologist. However, individuals could undertake a relevant college or private training course to help them gain knowledge and work towards their goals.

Some examples of courses are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Introduction to Counselling.
  • Introduction to Child Psychology.
  • Certificate of Higher Education in Psychology.
  • Level 3 Certificate in Counselling.
  • Level 3/4 Diploma in Child Psychology.
  • Level 4 Diploma in Counselling Skills.
  • AS and A-level Psychology.

 

The entry requirements will depend on the course provider and level. Always check the entry requirements before applying.

It may also be worth enrolling on low-cost online, short child psychology courses to see if the career would be of interest. That way, if not, it will save an individual a lot of time and trouble.

Courses and qualifications do not guarantee a place on accredited programmes or as a role as a child psychologist. However, it will demonstrate to employers and companies that the individual is keen on the career and may give them a competitive edge.

Working in education

Work experience

Relevant work experience in mental health and working with children and adolescents, either paid or voluntary, can help individuals stand out and build their knowledge and skills.

They could:

  • Work as a mental health care assistant, support worker, transport assistant, etc.
  • Work with children and adolescents in other settings, e.g. residential homes and the community.
  • Work in education, e.g. teaching, tutoring, coaching and mentoring.
  • Work at or volunteer at a mental health or children’s charity, e.g. Mind, YoungMinds, NSPCC, Rethink Mental Illness, the Children’s Society or Turning Point.
  • Work in healthcare and with the NHS.

 

Individuals can browse job websites to look for relevant roles that could help them get experience. There is also information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO and Volunteering Matters.

Doing online training course

Training courses

Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and keep their knowledge and skills current.

We have many approved courses that can be useful for individuals looking at a career as a child psychologist, for example (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Children’s mental health.
  • Adolescent mental health.
  • Anxiety in children.
  • Child development.
  • Child neglect.
  • Child bereavement.
  • Managing behaviour that challenges.
  • LGBTQ+ awareness.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Autism awareness.
  • ADHD awareness.
  • Substance misuse.
  • Self-harming.
  • CBT awareness.
  • OCD.
  • PTSD.
  • Phobias.
  • COVID-19 awareness.
  • Equality and diversity.

 

Health and safety and other training can also be beneficial, e.g. work-related stress, violence at work, lone working, resilience training, safeguarding children, etc.

Professional bodies and associations, such as the British Psychological Society (BPS), the Association of Child Psychologists in Private Practice (AChiPPP), the  Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ACAMH), the  Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), and others can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide memberships, events and support to help individuals become child psychologists and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development. Continuing professional development (CPD) is mandatory to remain on accredited registers.

The type of training required will depend on what employers are looking for, an individual’s specialisms and the CPD requirements for accreditation and registration. As well as looking at professional body websites, it is also worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the courses required and other training needed for specialist roles. Jobs are on NHS Jobs, BPS Jobs, Jobs in Psychology, HealthJobsUK, BMJ Jobs, and other job sites, such as GOV.UK find a job service and Indeed. Also, look at recruitment agencies.

More relevant training and competence will open up more opportunities for child psychologists. Refresher training will also be required, as it is a legal requirement, and it keeps knowledge and skills up to date.

Chartered membership

As mentioned, individuals need a BPS-accredited undergraduate and postgraduate degree to become chartered psychologists. They must also apply for chartered membership (CPsychol), which requires additional assessments and training. There is also an annual membership fee.

Further information on gaining membership is on the BPS’s website.

Registration

Individuals can also become registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) as practitioner psychologists. They will need to hold a qualification from a HCPC-approved education programme and apply to get on the register.

The register will require registrants to adhere to certain standards. Also, registration will need renewing, i.e. annually, and there is a cost.

Criminal records checks

Child psychologists must undergo a criminal record check, as they may have contact with children and those classed as vulnerable. A criminal record, caution, warning or conviction may put off prospective employers. However, employers should account for the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance to the role.

The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:

Driving

Some child psychologists will drive as part of their role, especially when working in the community and at different healthcare centres. Therefore, they should have a full clean driving licence.

Child psychologist working in office

Where do child psychologists work?

Child psychologists can work in many different settings, including (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Schools, academies, colleges and universities.
  • Community centres.
  • Hospitals, walk-in centres, mental health clinics and GP surgeries.
  • Residential homes.
  • Children’s services.
  • Advice and support centres.
  • Offices.
  • Their own home or practices.
  • The child’s family home.
  • Research facilities.
  • Prisons.
  • Young offender institutions.
  • Youth centres.
  • Courts and other legal settings.

 

They can work for public bodies and private organisations, for example:

  • The NHS.
  • Private healthcare providers.
  • Universities.
  • Government agencies.
  • Local authorities.
  • Social services.
  • Research organisations.
  • Counselling service providers.
  • Addiction agencies.
  • Charities.

 

They can also be self-employed and work for themselves or an agency.

Most child psychologist opportunities tend to be in cities and large towns.

Qualified child psychologist

How much do child psychologists earn?

If a child psychologist decides to work for the NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS), their salary is subject to a band pay system (agenda for change pay rates).

For example (these are a guide only and are subject to change):

  • Newly qualified (band 5) – £27,055–£32,934.
  • Trainees (band 6) – £33,706–£40,588.
  • Qualified (band 7) – £41,659–£47,672.
  • Consultants (band 8c-8d) – £67,064–£91,787.

 

The exact salaries for child psychologists will depend on the role, location (London supplement), specialisms, qualifications and years of experience. As individuals progress in their careers, there may be opportunities to enter more senior positions, and the band will increase.

There is potential for child psychologists to earn more if they work in other settings, e.g. private practice. Experienced individuals may also earn higher salaries if they combine their roles with specialisms, such as teaching or research.

A self-employed child psychologist’s salary is variable, as most will set their own rates. It will also depend on how many patients they have, their hours, their qualifications and specialisms, and the expenses they have to pay, e.g. utilities, training and research. Most charge between £120 to £180 per 60-minute session. They should agree on rates with patients’ families based on their circumstances.

Child psychologist specialising in adolescents

Types of child psychology to specialise in

There are many different areas in child psychology in which to specialise, for example (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Abnormal child psychology – specialising in working with children with atypical psychological disorders, such as personality and mood disorders. They also treat children who have experienced abuse or trauma.
  • Adolescent psychology – specialising in pre-teen and teenage patients with issues common to this development period, such as depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia and eating disorders.
  • Clinical child psychology – these psychologists work in settings such as hospitals, health centres, community mental health teams, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and social services. They work with children with various mental and physical health problems. They conduct clinical assessments, make diagnoses and provide various treatments and therapy. They can also conduct research.
  • Counselling psychology specialising in working with children and adolescents with various mental health problems. They use psychological and psychotherapeutic theory and research to reduce psychological distress and promote well-being.
  • Developmental child psychology – specialising in studying and researching childhood development and behaviour. They mainly work in research facilities and clinics.
  • Educational psychology – specialising in the psychological needs of children in school settings. They help children, parents, carers and teachers with learning, teaching and behaviour to improve things at school. They also help with issues such as bullying and other difficulties children may have, e.g. learning difficulties and disabilities.
  • School psychology – working specifically with pupils in school settings and these psychologists are sometimes known as educational psychologists.

 

Child psychologists can also specialise in various mental health disorders or behavioural problems, such as depression, anxiety, autism, ADHD, OCD, addiction, self-harm, phobias, aggression and many others. They may decide to specialise in one area, such as depression or addiction, or many.

All different child psychologist roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. Child psychologists need extensive knowledge of child and adolescent behaviour and mental health. They will also need to know how to build relationships based on trust with the patients and be able to identify, assess and treat various issues. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what an organisation is looking for and the work a child psychologist wants. Some may need specific qualifications and training for specialised areas.

If child psychologists do not do their role effectively, it can put children (and others) at risk. In worse cases, it may even cost lives. Therefore, whatever the type of role, they must have the necessary competence (knowledge, skills and experience) to carry out the work professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency and not use assessments, treatments and techniques if they are not trained and competent.

Child psychologist focusing on autism

Professional bodies

Standards, assessments, research, techniques, tools, therapies and laws are updated regularly. Therefore, child psychologists must keep ahead of the latest developments and changes to remain legally compliant and carry out their roles effectively and safely. CPD gives child psychologists the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes and understand their responsibilities. It also helps them stay registered with an accredited body and allows them to progress in their career.

Joining a professional body or association, covered earlier, can help prospective and current child psychologists enhance their skills and overall career. They can offer different levels of membership, CPD, advice and support, access to industry contacts and networking events.

There is an opportunity for career progression. With more qualifications and experience, a child psychologist can enter more senior roles, such as a consultant, or move into specialised jobs, such as educational psychology. They can also decide to focus on specific mental health and behaviour problems, such as ADHD, autism or eating disorders. Alternatively, they may become self-employed and set up their own practice.

Knowledge, skills and experience in child psychology can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, a child psychologist may want to work in education, training or research, or they may want to work in other psychology areas or mental health services. They may also decide to combine child psychology with other roles.

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