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Developmental Psychologist

Developmental Psychologist Career Information

The field of developmental psychology is a professional career that requires a Ph.D. as well as certification and licensing. Developmental psychologists are therapists who work with children who have missed one or more developmental milestones such as talking or walking. With early detection and intervention, a failure to miss one of these milestones can often be corrected, and further developmental complications can sometimes be avoided.

Developmental psychologists work in clinical settings with individual clients, families, and groups of children afflicted with disabilities such as speech delays and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Many children who experience these delays are autistic, and developmental delays can be a sign of autism. Developmental disabilities are not necessarily signs of autism, and they can sometimes be caused by other factors in a child’s life. A developmental psychologist analyzes the available information while observing a child who is experiencing developmental delays to determine the cause of the condition and recommend a treatment. The job requires extensive understanding of psychological literature as well as compassion and empathy for developmentally disabled children.

Related resource: Top 25 Online Master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)


Because developmental psychology is a professional career that requires advanced education, licensing and expertise, starting salaries tend to be higher than in other occupations. Location and years of experience also make a difference in the amount of money earned by these professionals. Developmental psychology is a highly demanding field, and most people who enter this profession do so because they want to help other people. Salaries in this profession are significantly higher than average, but the job duties are very challenging and require extreme caution to ensure that children are properly treated and cared for.

According to Payscale, salaries for this profession start out around $50,000 to $75,000, depending on the position, level of education and professional expertise. The median annual salary for the entire occupation is about $80,000. The top-earning 10 percent of developmental psychologists take home at least $110,000, and senior-level positions may offer greater pay, additional bonuses and more opportunity for advancement.

Key Responsibilities

Developmental psychologists are responsible for monitoring children who have shown signs of developmental delays. When a child misses an important developmental milestone, a treatment plan needs to be put into place to correct the problem before it can cause any complications.

The responsibilities of a developmental psychologist are extremely important, and the issues they deal with are very delicate. Key responsibilities include observing children’s behavior and communicating with parents and family members of the children under observation. Developmental psychologists are also responsible for prescribing treatment plans, including medication and therapy, for children with developmental disabilities. Therapists and clinicians must have a strong understanding of the differences between various types of developmental disabilities so that they can accurately diagnose the condition and recommend an effective treatment.

Necessary Skills

To be a successful developmental psychologist, you must be very attentive and knowledgeable about your profession. Ongoing education, clinical experience and a dedication to relieving the suffering of others are all crucial qualities to have. Because developmental psychologists generally work independently without supervision, a strong work ethic and attention to detail are also important qualities to have on the job. Disabled children and their families rely on developmental psychologists to help correct serious problems that could be difficult or impossible to reverse if left untreated.

Degree and Education Requirements

This career requires a Ph.D. as well as professional certification and licensing in states where the field of developmental psychology is regulated. The standard academic path to get a Ph.D. in this field is to get a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s degree and then a Ph.D. An alternative route is to get a bachelor’s degree and then go immediately into a Ph.D. program that focuses on developmental psychology. Continuing education and voluntary certification are also available for professionals in this field. Acquiring as many credentials as possible can help to eliminate any doubts you may have about your expertise, and it can alleviate the concerns of the parents who bring their children to your practice.

Pros and Cons of the Position

The field of developmental psychology offers many opportunities for rewarding, meaningful careers that impact the lives of others. There are many benefits and a few drawbacks to choosing this profession. The benefits include professional autonomy, regular office hours, a high salary and the satisfaction of helping children overcome developmental difficulties. The drawbacks include the cost of a lengthy education, the stress of working with disabled children and the discouragement of seeing a few children fail to overcome their disabilities. Very few developmental psychologists consider the drawbacks of this career to outweigh the benefits. For most professionals, working with disabled children is a reward in itself. Developmental psychology is a career choice for dedicated professionals who strongly want to help people in need.

Getting Started

To get started in the challenging field of developmental psychology, you must have a Ph.D. in psychology. Your degree can be specialized in developmental psychology or a more specific area of study within this discipline. If you’re still in high school, you can prepare for your college education by enrolling in advanced placement courses and practicing the SAT, ACT and other standardized tests. During your undergraduate college education, you should take as many social science courses as possible, especially in psychology and early childhood development. If your university offers an undergraduate degree program in developmental psychology, you should major in it. Otherwise, you could major in a related subject such as general psychology.

Future Outlook

Psychology careers are expected to increase by around 14 percent over the next 10 years, which is a faster rate of growth than most other occupations, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The field of developmental psychology is not a very competitive occupation, so there are likely to be enough jobs for everyone who enters this profession with a Ph.D. By engaging in continuing education and maintaining a strong work ethic, developmental psychologists can safeguard their careers and improve the quality of the service they provide.

Working with disabled children is a challenging job that not everyone can do. If you have the interest and the ambition to obtain a Ph.D. and provide clinical services for developmentally disabled children and their families, you should consider becoming a developmental psychologist.

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