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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.

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.

Training and Education

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.

Salary and Job Outlook

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, 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.

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.