Career Guide

Child Psychologist

Emily Hanson  · Jan 25th 2023

Is your key focus to help children, whether that be from bad experiences or difficult emotions?

Child Psychologist

Child psychologists support children and young people with their mental wellbeing. They work to assess, diagnose and treat children with mental illnesses by providing treatments, therapies and holistic interventions. They often work alongside other support workers, such as social workers, teachers and other professionals.

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What is a child psychologist?

A child psychologist is a psychotherapist with a specialism in supporting children, young people and their families. Their work covers a range of areas, but usually involves supporting people under 18 with mental health conditions, as well as overcoming traumatic events. Many children’s psychology specialists specialise in particular areas of care, such as play therapy or medical trauma.

Child psychologists may work within the NHS via Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) or in a private capacity. While they usually work on a one-to-one basis, they may offer group therapies or workshops with children or young people affected by similar.

The qualifying process to become a child and adolescent psychotherapist (CAPT) in the NHS is extensive.


Your responsibilities as a child psychologist will vary depending on the setting you work in and any specialisms you have. There are some common duties, though. These include:

  • Taking detailed notes and histories of a child or young person, listening carefully and including as much detail as possible.
  • Administering diagnostic questionnaires to assess the likelihood of a patient fulfilling diagnostic criteria for particular mental health conditions.
  • Making diagnoses of mental health conditions based on medical histories, patient input, and the results from diagnostic questionnaires.
  • Creating treatment plans to support children and young people in their mental health journey.
  • Advising on and prescribing mental health medications where necessary.
  • Taking approaches from a variety of different therapy and treatment strategies, from Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to psychoanalytical theories.
  • Delivering treatment to children and young people through set therapies such as CBT, talking therapies counseling children and play therapies, both with and without family members present.
  • Working alongside families to support their children and young people with their ongoing psychological challenges, providing advice and guidance on how to reinforce treatment plans at home.
  • Liaising with a wider team of mental health professionals, doctors and external services like social services to provide the best care and treatment for patients.
  • Liaising with a child or young person’s school, offering advice and guidance on how best to facilitate their learning with the schools Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo).
  • Attending supervisions with senior therapeutic staff for approval of treatment plans and advice on best practice.
  • Undertaking regular continuing professional development (CPD) to keep up to date with best practice.
  • Training up trainee psychologists.
  • Undertaking research and submitting academic papers, especially for those at advanced levels of the profession.


A child psychologist salary will depend on where you work (within the NHS or private sector) and your level of expertise.

If you work within the NHS, your salary is based on the Agenda for Change salary scale NHS workers. During your clinical training you will be paid at band 6, earning a salary of £33,706 - £40,588[1]. With time and experience you could expand on your role and move up the bands. Once you have completed your fully clinical training, you are likely to be paid at band 7 (£41,659 - £47,672). Highly experienced consultant psychotherapists can be paid at band 8 (£48,526 - £91,787)[2].

If you choose to work privately, your pay will vary depending on whether you are employed or work independently. Private child psychologists will also earn varying amounts depending on their location and their level of expertise.

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The qualifying process to become a child and adolescent psychotherapist (CAPT) in the NHS is extensive.

You will first need to complete pre-clinical training. Lists of providers are offered by the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP), and courses are assessed at postgraduate diploma or masters level. The courses combine in depth workshops, lectures, and time spent in child and adolescent observations with the support of a senior practitioner. To enter this pre-clinical training, you will need to have completed an undergraduate degree beforehand.

Example undergraduate degrees that would set you in good stead for pre clinical training include:

On completion of your pre-clinical training, you will be eligible to apply for clinical training with an NHS trust to train as a psychologist. This is usually a four year long course, and you will leave with a doctorate. Your training will include lectures, workshops, and personal psychoanalysis, and you will leave your training with a post in CAMHS. You will need to register with the ACP on completion to practise as a child psychotherapist or chartered psychologist.

Training and development

Your training towards this role is detailed and extensive, but it doesn’t stop when you become a psychologist. To retain registration with the ACP you will need to undertake regular CPD to keep fully up to date with the profession.

The training required for this role involves a breadth of clinical placements and child psychology work experience across various settings.

Your CPD will cover a variety of different activities. This could include attending workshops and seminars within the NHS, the ACT and external charitable bodies; attending conferences around new research and best practice; shadowing senior staff members and training up new members of staff. You might also conduct your own academic research in areas of particular interest, publishing in academic papers and providing talks at conferences to share your research.


Your skills as a child psychologist combine excellent knowledge of best practice and an ability to work well with children and young people. These include:

  • An ability to communicate effectively with young people and children, adapting your language and approaches to the age and stage of each patient.
  • A strong sense of empathy and understanding for the challenges faced by young people today.
  • A robust understanding of child development and how this interconnects with common mental health conditions.
  • Excellent knowledge of psychotherapy diagnosis, treatments and assessment methods.
  • Emotional resilience - you are likely to work with individuals going through traumatic and stressful life phases, as well as their families - so you will need to be able to keep tabs on your own emotions, especially in connection with your own personal lived experiences.
  • Ability to work well within a multidisciplinary team of professionals, including therapists, social workers, teachers, educational psychologists and doctors.
  • Ability to work well within a variety of different settings, from therapy centres through to schools, social work centres and home spaces.
  • Excellent written communication skills for recording detailed notes of patient progress.
  • Ability to work well independently.
  • Ability to take on feedback from supervisors, adapting treatment plans and adjusting practice accordingly.
  • Excellent time management skills to keep to appointment times.
  • Excellent organisational skills - you may work between various locations with several different young people, so keeping organised notes is paramount.
  • Ability to keep up to date with changes or updates to best practice.

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Work Experience

The training required for this role involves a breadth of clinical placements and child psychology work experience across various settings.

Most training providers require you to have work experience spent with young people and children in order to prove your suitability for specialising with this age group. This does not have to be in a mental health setting or in psychology placements, but instead needs to show an awareness of how to care and support people in the early phases of life.

Examples of places where work experience would be beneficial include time spent in schools and nurseries as teaching or support staff, healthcare settings, youth work settings or working in charities and non government organisations.

Many course providers also encourage individuals with lived experience of mental health challenges to apply for courses.

Career Prospects

Child psychotherapy is a highly skilled profession, so your career prospects are excellent.

A child psychologist is a psychotherapist with a specialism in supporting children, young people and their families.

On completion of your clinical training, you will be offered a post in the NHS to begin your career. As you develop, you will likely move up bands through the NHS system, taking on higher levels of seniority and responsibility. At this point, you are likely to specialise in a particular area of child psychology. You could specialise in working with children who have lived within the UK care system, or ‘looked after children’ (LAC), working directly with social services and attending children’s homes to support the young people living there. You could work in an in-patient unit, supporting young people under section or those with eating disorders.

You may particularly enjoy the academic side of your work, choosing to move towards academic teaching at university level. You could teach on undergraduate or preclinical courses, in research psychology jobs, or even progress to overseeing clinical training.

Many child psychologists also take on non NHS work once they reach a high level of specialism. You could see individual patients referred to you for specialist support as a private child psychotherapist, or work as part of a charity or non-governmental organisation.


  • [1]Child and adolescent psychotherapist — Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  • [2]Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist (CAPT) — Retrieved 28 September 2022.

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