How do I Become a Developmental Psychologist?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 July 2019
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Developmental psychology is concerned with psychological changes and growth that happen over the entire course of a person's life. Professionals apply the principles of dozens of different developmental theories to understand, predict, and prevent certain behaviors. Many developmental psychologists work in research institutions, conducting studies and formulating theories on human growth and development. Some professionals, however, practice applied clinical psychology, implementing developmental theories to help clients better understand their thoughts, behaviors, and patterns. An individual who wants to become a developmental psychologist in either setting is typically required to obtain a doctoral degree, work as a fellow or intern for up to three years, and pass state- or country-specific licensing exams.

A PhD or PsyD is usually required to become a developmental psychologist. Most people begin their college careers in four-year bachelor's programs at accredited colleges and universities. The majority of undergraduates major in general psychology, where they take many different courses to gain a basic understanding of psychological principles and research. Students typically take classes regarding cognitive, developmental, and abnormal psychology, among other topics. Courses in statistics and study design are particularly important for an individual who wants to become a developmental psychologist in a research facility.


Many undergraduates pursue internships or research assistant positions at school laboratories, where they have the opportunity to gain firsthand experience in the design and implementation of studies. Assistants and interns usually work in teams with other students to aid professors in their research. They may be responsible for recruiting volunteers, setting up tests, interpreting results, and writing scientific papers.

Upon completion of a bachelor's program, a person who wants to become a developmental psychologist usually applies for enrollment in a respected doctoral program. Hopeful psychologists typically spend five to seven years in a doctoral program. Individuals who plan on doing research are usually required to complete an independent study or literary analysis regarding some aspect of developmental psychology in order to complete dissertation requirements. Most prospective clinical psychologists have the opportunity to work as clinical interns for their last one to two years of doctoral programs.

New research psychologists often pursue postdoctoral fellowships after graduation. They work as assistants to established researchers for up to two years in order to gain additional experience and prepare for independent careers. Clinical developmental psychologists are usually required to work under supervision for up to two years to ensure they are capable of the job. Most states and countries require a new clinical specialist to pass an extensive written exam before he or she can officially become a developmental psychologist. Test material varies between regions, but most exams measure a person's understanding of developmental psychology principles, ethics, and laws.



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