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How to Become a Child Psychologist

If you want to work with children and help to provide them with a better future then looking for child psychologist jobs could be the right path for you. Working as a child psychologist is a highly skilled role that takes years of dedication, academic commitment and on the job training to achieve. Before you can even begin training, you will need at least two years’ experience of working with children and adolescents in a social care, health or education setting. Child psychologist jobs are rewarding and a Child Psychologist’s salary can be lucrative, but it isn’t necessarily the right career path for everyone.

To help you decide if it’s the right career for you, here’s everything you need to know about how to become a child psychologist:

What is a Child Psychologist?

A child psychologist is, in its simplest terms, a psychologist who works specifically with children. The role of a child psychologist is to work with children and young people to support them with both mental health and behavioural problems. Common issues that child psychologists deal with on a day-to-day basis include depression, anxiety, trauma, phobias and aggression.

The role of a child psychologist is to observe and analyse their patients in an age-appropriate way. For younger children this is likely to involve play therapy and discussion via activities, whilst for older children and teenagers a more typical therapeutic situation is likely to unfold, involving supportive discussions and conversational engagement. Whilst child psychologists often work with children on a one-to-one basis, they can also work in group sessions. These will often involve parents or other family members. When assessing children, a child psychologist will:

  • Carrying out consultations and interventions with young people and their parents, teachers, or other caregivers
  • Use cognitive testing to study the actions and behaviours of children
  • Decipher the meaning of children’s behaviours and actions using the techniques they learnt during their training
  • Create and then carry out short-term and long-term treatment plans for each of their patients
  • You may also supervise trainees, liaise with other health professionals, and attend non-clinical meetings and conferences

The working hours for a child psychologist are quite regular, particularly if you choose to work within the NHS, although you may work outside of normal office hours. Flexibility is often required for child psychologists to enable them to attend meetings, run training sessions, or cover sessions in the evenings or at weekends. Many child psychologists work for more than one organisation at a time meaning that, for example, you may work for the NHS on a part-time basis whilst also operating your own private practice, working within the voluntary sector, or working within schools or for local authorities to consult with children and young people within the community. The varied nature of the position is one of the things that makes working as a child psychologist so appealing for many: because no two days will be exactly the same.

There are opportunities for child psychologists to work all over the UK, and the world, but you are likely to find that work opportunities are located in cities and large towns rather than in villages or rural locations. This is particularly true if you work within the NHS where you may well find you are attached to a hospital or large clinic. This means that your role may involve some travelling during the day, to visit different clinics or locations (particularly if you choose to work for more than one organisation) but you won’t have to regularly spend time away from home, as is often the case in other medical professions.

Personal Qualities of a Child Psychologist

If you are thinking of training as a child psychologist and wondering if it is the right career for you, then you may be wondering what personal qualities you need to be a child psychologist. As well as having the relevant academic qualifications, to be successful in the field of child psychology, you will also need the following personal traits:

  • An interest in, and understanding of, children, and particularly in the emotional problems that they face
  • Strong communication skills. These should be adaptable so that you can communicate effectively with children of all ages, the families of these children, and your colleagues and other adults within the field
  • A high level of emotional resilience, enabling you to deal with the mental health problems faced by your clients without having a negative impact on your own mental health
  • You should thrive on working in an environment that changes rapidly, and facing new experiences, and new problems, every day
  • You should be highly organised, self-motivated, and able to manage your own workload
  • Enjoy working independently, and working without the support of colleagues on a day-to-day basis. If you don’t work as an independent child psychologist then you should also have excellent leadership skills, enabling you to support other members or your team or trainees within your practice
  • Feel comfortable around the extremes of human emotions, and dealing with children who are dealing with these emotions and feeling vulnerable
  • The confidence to help children and young people to explore both their own mental health, as well as any difficult or painful aspects of their life that are causing them distress
What a child psychologist does

What a Child Psychologist Does

As a child psychologist, your day-to-day roles and responsibilities will include many of the following, although no two days will ever be exactly the same:

  • Assess children and young people, as well as their parents and carers, to ensure they are offered the most appropriate treatment
  • Create specialist treatment programmes to care for the needs of your patients. These programmes may be individual or in a group setting
  • Engage with, and observe, the children and young people within your sessions, assessing what they are communicating both in a verbal way as well as through their play and behaviour
  • Treat each child or young person as a unique individual, and tailor their programme to them specifically. This should be dealt with in an age-appropriate way
  • Form part of a larger multidisciplinary team, ensuring that you can both work with, and communicate with, a wide range of professionals within the arena of child care
  • Work with children on both a short term and long-term basis. These interventions could include just a few sessions, or you could engage in regular appointments over several years
  • Work with other settings, such as schools, hospitals, child services, and protection agencies, to ensure that a child’s needs are being met consistently across all settings
  • Regularly review and monitor the assessments and treatment plans that you have put in place for your clients
  • Supervise trainee child psychologists, as well as other therapists under your care, offering advice, training and consultation where it is needed
  • Undertake risk assessments and conduct regular risk management for all of your clients, from a child psychotherapy perspective
  • Undertake continued professional development and ensure that you keep up to date with the latest research and developments within your field

How Much Does a Child Psychologist Earn?

How much you will earn as a child psychologist will depend on your level of qualification, how much experience you have in the field, and the sector in which you choose to work. Within the NHS there is a clear pay scale, for example, whilst in private practice there is no set scale of what you can and can’t charge for your services.

If you are working within the NHS as a child psychologist then it is likely that you will work for CAMHS or another similar mental health service. The amount you will earn will depend on your position within these organisations with:

  • Psychotherapist trainees falling into NHS pay band 6. You can expect to earn a salary of between £32,306 to £39,027
  • Once you are a qualified child or adolescent psychotherapist you will fall in NHS pay band 7. Once you reach this position, you can expect to earn between £40,057 to £45,839 at current pay rates
  • The highest level you can achieve within the NHS within this profession is the role of principal or lead psychotherapist. Psychotherapists within this category are considered to be at band 8 of the NHS pay scale, and the pay range at this level varies considerably: you can expect to earn between £47,126 and £90,387 for the most senior posts

Many child psychologists prefer to work in private practice, and for this it is much harder to give an approximate pay bracket, although we do know that the average child psychologist salary in the UK is £35,000 per year. The amount you can charge for your services will depend on a variety of factors, including the size of your client base, the type of clients that you work with, your level of experience, and your location.

Qualifications Needed for a Child Psychologist

The role of a child psychologist is a highly qualified one, and it will take considerable time, financial investment, and academic commitment to become fully qualified and secure a position within the field. Child psychology is rarely chosen as a first profession, as it is such a difficult field to get into: instead, it is likely that you will already have a background in medicine, nursing, teaching, social work, psychiatry, or psychology. These are the most common backgrounds of individuals who choose to move into the field of child psychology, although this list isn’t exhaustive.

Whether you have worked with children in a professional or voluntary capacity, you will be expected to demonstrate that you have worked with children of a wide range of ages, as well as their families, for a minimum of two years. This is key, and will be used to assess your personal suitability for the field.

From an academic point of view, the route to becoming a child psychologist is as follows:

  • You should have an honours degree within a relevant field (such as healthcare, medicine, social care, or teaching), in conjunction with the work experience outlined above
  • You should then complete a course of observational psychoanalytic studies at Masters level, postgraduate diploma level, or other equivalent qualification within the field. This course will take between two and three years to complete, depending on whether you opt to secure the diploma or the Master’s degree
  • Once you have completed your pre-clinical studies, you need to complete four years of clinical training. This is sometimes referred to as ‘on the job training.’ Within your training you will be supervised as you explore child psychology theory, technique, and clinical practice. When your four years of training are complete, this will usually lead to a Professional Doctorate in Child and Adolescent Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy (DPsych)
  • Some NHS trusts will provide clinical training posts where you are offered paid training and additional support during your four years of clinical training, but it’s worth noting that the number of positions available are often limited
  • In order to secure a clinical training place, you should undergo Personal psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic psychotherapy. This is considered an essential requirement of the training process. You will typically undergo four to five personal analysis sessions per week, though these may decrease as your career progresses

On the Job Training

On the job training is a key tool in securing your position as a child psychologist. Before you can even begin your training, you must have worked with children or young people for at least two years in either a professional or voluntary capacity. Then, once you have completed your pre-clinical masters or diploma, on the job training will provide the main focus of your remaining journey to becoming a child psychologist. This is great news for practical learners, or those that learn better in an on-the-job, real-life setting, rather than a theoretical one. `

Once you are registered officially as a child psychologist, continued professional development will provide an essential role in ensuring that you keep up to date with the latest clinical information and proposed best practice. Child psychology is considered a field where your learning is never done, your training is never completed, and there are always new techniques to discover. For this reason, it is a great career path for lifelong learners who see learning as a vital component of successful employment.

Professional Bodies

In order to be registered officially as a child psychologist, you must become a member of the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP) and appear on the ACP Register of Child Psychotherapists, which is accredited by the Professional Standards Authority. Membership to this professional body is mandatory, but it does boast many benefits that may enhance and assist your career. The ACP can advise on best practice, offer training and events, access to a highly regarded annual conference, and maintain professional standards. You can use the ACP to meet and interact with your peers, develop professional relationships, and focus on enhancing your existing career.

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