The History of the Developmental Child Psychologist
Developmental child psychology has been defined as a field of study that examines and attempt to explain how humans change over time. Those changes occur in a number of different areas, each of which include several aspects of the human experience. Physical change includes growth and the acquisition of motor skills. Mental change includes cognitive development and brain function. Social change includes language acquisition and identity formation as well as the acquisition of social skills valued by specific cultures.
The history of this field began with philosophy. Some of the earliest philosophers who contributed ideas upon which developmental psychology would later be based include Rene Descartes and John Locke. While the term “developmental child psychologist” hadn’t yet been invented in the mid-18th century, French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the first to describe three stages of human development. He separated those stages into infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Many of the ideas in his 1762 book Emile: Or, On Education were extremely controversial at the time, and the book was both banned and burned. However, after the French Revolution, those ideas were used to build the modern national education system.
The evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin also had a great influence on the field of child development psychology. G. Stanley Hall expanded upon it by likening individual development with the evolutionary development of civilization as a whole. James Mark Baldwin and John B. Watson were also among those considered to be the founders of modern developmental psychology. Watson was one of the first to utilize the study of animals to achieve a greater understanding of human behavior.
The Current Role of the Developmental Child Psychologist
The developmental child psychologist of today formulate practical applications of the many theories developed by their predecessors to assist parents and children in reaching their full human potential. They do this in a number of different ways. One way is through research and education. Many conduct studies using the latest scientific technology and methodology to measure the effects of social conditions on families. The results of those studies are often used by policy makers to implement programs designed to reduce negative social outcomes such as addiction and crime.
Today’s developmental child psychologist has a number of other roles in society as well. Those in private practice provide a number of services, including evaluating children for a variety of disorders and developmental delays. They provide a treatment plan that addresses any mental, emotional or behavioral issues that are discovered during the evaluation. Treatment often entails regular therapy sessions designed to help children overcome the effects of emotional trauma.
Most schools have a developmental child psychologist or school counselor on their staff. School counselors assist children in adapting to the social environment of the educational system. If a child is demonstrating disruptive behaviors in class, the counselor often works with the entire family to determine the cause of the behavior and to implement a healthy solution.
The developmental child psychologist also plays a number of roles in the legal system. One of those roles is offering expert testimony regarding the mental health of those charged with crimes. That testimony helps the court determine whether the accused has a mental illness that contributed to their behavior and whether they have achieved the level of moral development necessary to distinguish right and wrong. They also advise the court in child custody cases in which a judge must determine what is in the best interests of the child.
Increasingly, the child development psychologist now plays a large role in influencing local, state, and federal government in the development of public policies that take their research findings into consideration. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 173,900 psychologists employed in 2014, a number which is expected to increase by 19 percent over the next ten years.
The role of psychologists in creating public policy is gaining acceptance worldwide through a new field of psychology called international psychology. This new field attempts to overcome cultural differences and develop and implement social policies based on scientific knowledge about the human condition. One of the goals of this international organization is to increase mental health by reducing cultural bias. Since the advent of the internet and increased mobility of populations, cross-cultural psychology has become more important and has resulted in the development and recognition of a more inclusive and less ethno-centric indigenous psychology. It also advocates for more “feminization” within the field.
Just as human beings continue to learn and grow, becoming more fully human throughout their lives, developmental psychology does the same, reaching a new stage in its scientific evolution.