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What is a Developmental Psychologist?

Psychologists and other counseling professionals approach treatment from a variety of philosophies, and a developmental psychologist focuses on human development that happens throughout the lifespan. All areas of growth and development are studied, including intellectual, social, cognitive, physical, perceptual and emotional. Professionals in developmental psychology take their knowledge of the ways in which people grow and change throughout life and apply that understanding toward helping clients to make healthy changes toward their overall goals.

The job duties of a developmental psychologist are important for understanding cognitive development in patients of all ages. Professional psychologists work in a variety of settings to study the mental function of children, adults and seniors and optimize society and the workplace for better development. They work in universities, corporations and healthcare facilities to perform research and assess the mental well-being of patients in clinics and hospitals. Becoming a developmental psychologist usually requires doctoral training as well as a residency in a healthcare facility.

What They Do

Developmental psychologists work in a variety of settings and capacities. They may work in private practice, healthcare facilities, schools, government agencies and academia. Some may focus on research or teaching, while others may work to assess and treat people with developmental disabilities.

Developmental psychologists also work with individuals throughout the lifespan.  Some work with the elderly population in nursing homes or assisted living facilities to help residents deal with the unique issues aging populations face.  Others are involved in working with children, where they study the acquisition of language skills and the development of moral reasoning. Developmental psychology is a broad field with numerous possibilities.

Developmental psychologists work in a variety of professional settings. Many professionals choose to work in the corporate sector, helping hospitals, clinics and businesses assess the mental health of employees and patients. They may serve these organizations as consultants or as full-time employees.

Within the labor market for development psychologists, there are two main types of professionals. The first type are clinical psychologists who diagnose patients and provide consultations, and the second are the more scholarly professionals who perform research and provide academic expertise. Most developmental psychology PhD programs offer separate tracks for these two career options. Students of these programs can choose from a limited number of degree focuses, such as early childhood development and Alzheimer’s research.

Corporations have a growing need for developmental psychologists to provide mental health support for their employees. Big firms such as Google and Facebook employ these professionals to ensure that their full-time staff members are as happy and productive as possible. Psychologists working in a clinical capacity can offer counseling for employees and recommendations for employers to create a friendlier atmosphere. Researchers working in these firms can help top executives design a more productive workspace where employees feel creative and inspired every day.

Training and Education

What is a Developmental Psychologist?

Developmental psychology professionals usually hold a PhD or other doctoral degree. While there are opportunities for those with a Master’s, the majority of opportunities in the field exist for those with a doctorate. Typically, students will pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology, followed by a master’s and then a doctoral. Specialized doctorate programs do exist that are designed to take students directly from an undergraduate degree straight to the pursuit of a PhD or PsyD. A student can expect to spend at least seven years working toward their doctorate degree.

Most psychology PhD programs are accredited by the American Psychological Association. Another option for doctoral students is the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), which should also be accredited by the APA. According to the APA, the PsyD degree is the best choice for students who want to work in an applied clinical setting. A PhD degree, on the other hand, is a better choice for students who would rather do academic research or pursue an academic career as a professor.

Many postdoctoral programs exist for clinical and academic psychologists looking to boost their expertise and make their resumes stand out. After completing a postdoc fellowship, psychologists are qualified to become department chairs of their universities or sit on the board of directors of privately funded psychological institutes. Relevant work experience may be required for these fellowships although doctoral research could count as work experience in some situations.

For psychologists who don’t want to go through a fellowship program immediately after graduating from college, many choices of postgraduate certification are available. With a professional certificate, psychologists can find specialized jobs in business and healthcare, working with patients and helping workers stay balanced and keep stress at bay.

Salary and Job Outlook

What is a Developmental Psychologist?

There are a number of factors that determine what developmental psychologists can earn. Salaries vary based on geographic location, specialization, work environment and experience, along with other factors. In 2009, according to information obtained from Salary.com, median annual earnings were between $69,000 to $91,000. The median salary of developmental psychologist working in health practitioners’ offices is $68,400, while those employed in individual and family services can expect considerably less at $57,400. As there are a number of different settings, capacities and specializations in which developmental psychologists work, it is understandable that salaries would vary greatly across the board.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, job growth is expected to occur at an average rate in the field of developmental psychology over the next ten years. This is in comparison to the job growth rate of other careers. Again, depending on the area of specialization, some in developmental psychology may see more growth and demand than others.

Jobs for psychologists in general are expected to grow by around 3 percent over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While that number may not sound very high, it refers to psychologists across all fields of practice. In contrast, development specialist and postsecondary educator jobs are both expected to grow by 9 percent over the next decade. Research jobs in developmental psychology will grow at the same rate as education jobs, so psychologists with an interest in studying human cognitive development in the laboratory will have many opportunities for employment.

The earning potential for these jobs depends on the level of education and work experience required. Psychologists in corporate or clinical settings can earn more money than those in academic settings. The exception to this rule is for postdoctoral fellows who hold a chaired position in a university psychology department or administration.

According to the BLS, most psychologists earn around $80,000 to $130,000 per year. The highest-earning 10 percent of psychologists take home over $130,000 per year. When specialized training is taken into consideration, the earning potential is even greater. Developmental specialists can earn over $100,000 per year while postsecondary instructors can take home over $174,000 per year.

Degree Options

Psychologists who treat patients for cognitive conditions must have a doctoral degree in clinical psychology or a medical degree in psychiatry. These degrees can take longer to obtain than a standard PhD in psychology because they require residency hours in a clinical setting under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. Jobs in corporate or academic settings typically don’t have this requirement, so job seekers can get started more quickly in these careers.

A PsyD degree may not take as long to obtain as a PhD. Students who want to work in the private sector and don’t wish to do academic research or teach at the college level may benefit by choosing an accredited PsyD program, available at most universities. PsyD programs generally take less time to complete because they put less of a focus on research and require fewer thesis arguments throughout the semesters.

Developmental psychologists who wish to teach university courses without obtaining a doctoral degree can choose to work in a junior college. Junior colleges typically offer teaching positions to applicants with master’s degrees and the requisite teaching experience. This job could be a stepping stone to a higher-paying career as a university faculty member. Most terminal PhD programs accept students who have already obtained a master’s degree and acquired professional work experience.

Degree Concentrations

A growing number of universities offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in development psychology. Undergraduate students take a standard curriculum of courses that includes lifespan development, social psychology and other fundamental concepts. Graduate students enrolled in developmental psychology programs must choose a degree concentration, and there are several fascinating options to choose from.

Concentrations such as early childhood development, forensic psychology, developmental psychopathology, language development, cognitive psychology, industrial-organizational psychology and clinical psychology are available for students at most institutions. Choosing a degree concentration sets the course of a developmental psychologist’s career and determines whether he or she will be qualified to work in academia or in industry.

Day-to-Day Duties

What is a Developmental Psychologist?

The day-to-day duties of a developmental psychologist can vary depending on the career path he or she has chosen. Psychologists in the corporate world spend their days working with executives, managers and human resources departments to provide analysis and mental health support for a company’s workforce. They work with teams of I/O psychologists to help optimize a company’s staff and encourage enthusiasm and creativity among employees.

In an academic setting, developmental psychologists spend their days performing research, teaching courses and working with students. They can teach undergraduate and graduate courses, and some tenured professors may work with doctoral students throughout their PhD or PsyD programs. The type of research performed in psychology departments is mostly statistical. It’s based on surveys and clinical trials conducted with volunteers and mental healthcare patients.

In a clinical settings, developmental psychologists work with patients of all ages seeking counseling. Depending on a psychologist’s area of expertise, he or she may specialize in working with children, adolescents, adults or seniors. Developmental psychologists may spend their days in healthcare clinics, hospitals or senior living facilities. They could spend months or years working with a select group of patients in need of psychological care.

Certifications

As in other areas of a psychologist’s career, the postgraduate certifications he or she obtains will depend on his or her career choice and area of expertise. There is a wide array of choices of professional certification in the field of psychology. Some of the most common choices are certificates in cognitive-behavioral therapy, clinical psychology, counseling, forensic psychology, geropsychology, school psychology, clinical child and adolescent psychology and industrial-organizational psychology. Postgraduate certificate courses typically take six months to a year to complete and do not count as credit toward a degree.

In most states, developmental psychologists must also be licensed to practice psychology with patients. Obtaining a license is a less cumbersome process than becoming certified because it doesn’t require additional education or enrollment in courses. However, most state psychology licenses do require applicants to take comprehensive tests and complete clinical training in a residency program. Whether a developmental psychologist chooses to work with seniors or young people, he or she must take a standardized licensing exam before entering the profession.

Best States for Developmental Psychologists

According to the BLS, the top five states for psychologists to seek employment are Florida, Massachusetts, Texas, Maryland and New York. Florida takes the top spot with a labor market of 1,220 professionals and a median annual salary of $95,040. Massachusetts is second with a psychologist employment rate of 0.23 practicing psychologists per 1,000 people and a median annual salary of $89,600. In Texas, the median annual salary is $92,270 while in New York, it’s $97,190. The state with the highest median annual salary for psychologists is Maryland, where it’s $112,260.

The states with the highest concentration of psychology jobs among the population are the District of Columbia, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland and Hawaii. In Washington D.C., the median annual salary for psychologists is $98,530, and the concentration of job opportunities is 0.31 per 1,000 residents. The best city for developmental psychologists overall is Baltimore, Md., where the median annual salary is $122,520.

Professional Associations

A number of professional associations exist to help developmental psychologists become established in their careers. Joining a psychology association provides numerous professional benefits, including access to educational seminars, conferences, networking opportunities, job placement support and certification assistance.

Some of the professional associations include the American Psychological Association, the National Association for School Psychologists, the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, the American Board of Professional Psychology, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology and the American Board of Professional Neuropsychology.

Conclusion

The field of developmental psychology examines and studies the expected growth and development of humans over the lifespan. There are a number of specializations and a variety of work settings within the field. Overall, developmental psychology professionals should be curious, analytical and observant. A developmental psychologist has a great deal of choice in terms of the direction their career takes and can make a significant contribution to the understanding of human development.

With a carefully planned career path, a developmental psychologist can ascend to the highest levels of academia and the corporate world. The right licensing, certification and degree concentration can open many doors in the employment market. The best first step that a developmental psychologist can take is to enroll in an accredited university program as early as possible.

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