There are many avenues to working with and studying children; some in Psychology, others in related health service fields. For all, an undergraduate Psychology major is an excellent first step into the career. The various child-focused careers differ in the type of work one does, the ages and groups of children (from infants to adolescents and from normal to very disturbed and/or handicapped children), and the type and amount of training required.
At the Bachelor's level, many human and/or health services job possibilities involve children. Camp staff director, child care counselor, child care worker, child development worker, infant stimulation teacher, youth worker, and juvenile probation officer are but a few. For jobs at this level, experience is the key to success. As an undergraduate, you should seek out relevant work experience involving children (PSY 3V90 is one way to gain initial supervised experience and get credit at the same time). Within Psychology, the following courses are advised: Group A: 3330, 3350; Group B: 3419; Group C: 4302, 3308, 2327, 3307 and 3355 (especially if interested with working with adolescents). Outside Psychology, such courses as the following would be good choices for electives:
SOC 3354, 3360
SWO 3382, 4329
HEC 2354, 3356, 3357, 4359
Ordinarily, a career in Child Psychology requires graduate training at either the Master's or Doctoral level. At the Master's level (M.A. or M.S.), one can pursue a degree in Clinical or School Psychology. M.A. level School Psychologists are typically employed in the public schools in a given state. As such, they must have completed a state-approved training program (or the equivalent) and be certified by the state. Certification can usually be obtained after 60 hours of graduate work and a one-year supervised internship although APA recommends a doctoral degree for the title School Psychologist. Some Master's level people trained in clinical psychology choose to specialize in work worth children. These individuals can be certified as a Psychological Associate, or Licensed Professional Counselor or similar title, depending on the particular state. However, such individuals ordinarily must be supervised by a doctoral level Psychologist and cannot work independently as a Psychologist.
To successfully pursue Master's training as described above, you need to take appropriate Psychology courses (the ones listed for the Bachelor's degree would be relevant) and gain relevant experience through jobs or such courses as 3V90, just as you would to pursue Bachelor's level jobs. However, you will also need to prepare for graduate school itself. See the section of this booklet on preparation for graduate school for suggestions in this area.
At the Doctoral level, there are three separate specializations involving children, two of which are recognized as specialties by APA and a third currently seeking such recognition. These are Clinical Psychology (with a specialization with children); School Psychology and Applied Developmental Psychology (still seeking specialization status). Each will be described briefly below along with suggestions about undergraduate courses and activities that will help prepare you for each.
Child Clinical Psychologists are trained broadly in Clinical Psychology (read that section of this booklet also) but specialize in working with children. They work both in academic institutions and health care settings such as child guidance centers, MHMR centers and other outpatient clinics, children's hospitals, children's units in both general and psychiatric hospitals, children's residential settings (such as the Methodist Home), schools, and private practice. Typically, child clinical psychologists work with such diverse problems as child abuse, learning disabilities, childhood depression, adolescent suicide, hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders, and adjustment disorders. In their work, they use a variety of modalities including behavior therapy, parent training and guidance, play therapy, consultation with schools, group therapy, and family therapy.
Doctoral programs in Clinical Psychology that offer specialization in child clinical are highly sought after by applicants and are the most difficult of the three graduate options described here to get admitted to. You will need to take appropriate courses (PSY 3330, 3350, 3419, 4302, 3308, 3355, and if possible, take additional courses from Groups A and B as some of your electives). Upper level electives from other departments that would be particularly useful include SOC 3354, 3360, PHI 4310, ANT 3305, BIO 3422, 3330, 4330, 4375, and REL 4395. In addition, you need to seek out opportunities for both field experience involving children (using 3V90 or a job working with children) and research experience. Involvement in research, usually through PSY 4V96 working with a faculty member as a research assistant, is highly valued by most Ph.D. programs. Finally, it is essential that you have an excellent record, with a high GPA (typical mean GPA's for applicants accepted into these programs are 3.5 or higher).
School Psychology has been partially described under Master's programs. School Psychologists help educators and others promote the intellectual, social, and emotional development of children. They are also involved in creating environments that facilitate learning and mental health. They may evaluate and plan programs for children with special needs or deal with less severe problems such as disruptive behavior in the classroom. School Psychologists sometimes engage in program development and staff consultation to prevent problems. Other activities include providing on-the-job training for teachers in classroom management, consultation with parents and teachers on ways to support including providing on-the-job training for teachers in classroom management, consultation with parents and teachers on ways to support a child's efforts in school, and consultation with school administrators on a variety of psychological and educational issues. Some of the settings where the work are day care centers, hospitals, mental health clinics, federal and state government agencies, child guidance centers, penal institutions, and private practice.
Preparation for this career is much like that for child clinical psychologist. In general, requirements for admission are somewhat less stringent for these programs but a good record is still a basic requirement. In addition to the non-Psychology electives listed above, you should consult with the School of Education for possible courses there that would be relevant.
Applied Developmental Psychology is a relatively new field emerging out of Developmental Psychology. Developmental Psychologists study human development across the life span, from conception to aging and death. They are interested in the description, measurement, and explanation of age-related changes in behavior; stages of emotional development; universal traits and individual differences; and abnormal changes in development. Applied Developmentalists, as the name suggests, apply developmental knowledge in human service and health care settings. They consult with day care, Head Start, and nursery school settings, work in behavioral medicine in hospitals, and serve as adjunct service providers for pediatricians. Despite the applied focus, Applied Developmental programs are more research oriented than clinical psychology programs tend to be, particularly on admissions. Preparation for a career in Applied Developmental Psychology is the same as for the two doctoral careers above except that the emphasis on obtaining research experience is greater and the need to get actual "clinical" experience is less.