Developmental Psychologist

Developmental psychology seeks to understand and address the psychological changes that occur in individuals over their life span. Historically, the field of development psychology dealt primarily with infants and small children. Over the last few decades it has expanded it focus to include adolescence, adults and the elderly. Developmental psychology address many aspects of mental development and progression including motor skills, cognitive development, moral understanding, problem solving, social development and emotional development.

Specifically, developmental psychologists study mental development through gradual accumulation of knowledge and understanding over a life time, and innate mental process, as opposed to experiential learning. Many development psychologists and research also seek to understand the relationship between an individual's behavior, unique personal characteristics, and their environment - specifically their environment from a social context.

Developmental psychology as an academic field of study influences several other applied fields of psychology including child psychopathology, educational psychology, and forensic developmental psychology. Developmental psychology is often studied and practiced in combination with other tenants of psychology including cognitive psychology, comparative psychology, social psychology and ecological psychology.

The field of developmental psychology can be separated into a variety of specialties. Some specialize in gerontology, infancy, or sociological factors affecting development.

Diversity is one of the many draws of this field of psychology. Developmental psychologists not only focus on stages of human development, they also focus on factors, such as environmental conditions, that influence behavior and cause humans to change.

The following life stages are the primary focus of developmental psychologists:

  • Infancy
  • Adolescence
  • Various stages of Adulthood

Those pursuing careers in developmental psychology who choose to specialize in infancy and adolescence can find jobs in the following industries or agencies:

  • Child Abuse Shelters
  • Adoption Agencies
  • Hospitals
  • Curriculum Development Organizations
  • Universities
  • Children Advocate Non-profit Groups
  • Toy Development Companies
  • Welfare Agencies

Before deciding upon a specialty, it is important to know a little about each age group developmental psychologists focus on. Those focusing on adolescence will work with people in the stage between childhood and adulthood. This is a difficult time for most people since their bodies are undergoing constant changes, and many adolescents begin to experiment with sex, drugs, and alcohol. This can also be a difficult time socially because many adolescents must cope with depression, body image problems, and other emotional issues.

Adolescence specialists work closely with teenagers at suicide prevention centers, schools, and other facilities where troubled teenagers receive assistance. Many work with organizations that promote public awareness of important challenges facing teens.

Many developmental psychologists with expertise in adolescence can also specialize in childhood, infancy, and pregnancy and find jobs with organizations and companies working with people matching these criteria.

Those who decide to work with troubled teenagers can find jobs at the following facilities:

  • Alternative High Schools
  • Centers for Disabled Adolescents
  • Substance Abuse Recovery Facilities
  • Boarding Houses
  • Mental Health Facilities
  • Hospitals

In addition to adolescence psychologists, there is also demand for developmental psychologists specializing in adulthood since many young adults are involved with gangs, struggle with substance abuse, and engage in violent crime. As a result, many developmental psychologists can be found in correctional facilities and facilities where troubled young adults receive treatment, counseling and assistance.

Although more young adults struggle with substance abuse and participate in violent criminal behavior, middle-aged adults also struggle with a variety of problems, including divorce, job loss, and obesity. Developmental psychologists specializing in middle adulthood conduct university research, work in private practice, and collaborate with clinical psychologists to develop treatment strategies.

Because of increased life expectancy rates, many opportunities now exist for developmental psychologists specializing in geriatrics and working with older adults.

Adults who want to avoid, or at least decrease health problems associated with aging must exercise and eat nutritious food. As a result, developmental psychologists often consult with other healthcare and medical professionals to set up programs for older adults to prevent health problems associated with aging and dimentia.

Hospitals, convalescent centers, and non-profit organizations hire developmental psychologists to assist older people struggling with depression, chronic illness, substance abuse, memory loss, and other age related problems.

How to Become a Development Psychologist
Education and trainign are the key to launching a career in developmental psychology. The first step to becoming a development psychologist is to earn a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited four-year college or university. While earning a bachelor's degree in psychology is not absolutely necessary, it is strongly recommended. Earning a bachelor's degree in anoother discipline relating to behavioral science is acceptable.

After earning a bachelor's degree, students will need to complete a graduate degree in psychology. Students may pursue either a master's degree or doctoral degree in developmental psychology. However, in order to obtain a license to practice psychology, or to teach or perform research, a doctoral degree is required. The two most common types of doctoral degrees in psychology include the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in developmental psychology. Students who plan on working in a practice environment counseling patients should consider earning the PsyD. If research is the primary career objective, then a PhD in psychology is preferrable.

It takes about 4-6 years to earn a doctorate degree in psychology - but it's worth it if you want to practice in this field. There are many more career advancement opportunities available with doctoral degree in developmental psychology than there are with a master's degree. If you're interested in having your own practice, you'll most definitely need a doctoral degree. A doctoral degree is required in order to obtain mandatory state licensing to practice psychology anywhere in the United States. Over 30% of psychologists managed their own practice.

Job Outlook
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics job growth for psychologists in general is expected to be around 12% from 2012 through 2022. Development psychologists with either a PhD or PsyD will have the best job opportunities and prospects. New job opportunities in teaching and research are expected to become available over the next few years. However, the most job growth and opportunity is expected in gerontology as more and more baby boomers grow older.

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