Who Are School Psychologists?
Have you ever had a difficult time explaining what a School Psychologist does? It is because the role of the School Psychologist is complex and diverse. The role can vary from system to system. However, it is universally true that School psychologists help children and youth succeed academically, socially, and emotionally. Their principle objective is to apply scientific values of learning and behavior to improve school-related difficulties and to facilitate the learning and development of children. They collaborate with educators, parents, and other professionals to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments for all students.
School psychologists are highly trained in both clinical psychology and educational psychology. They must be certified and/or licensed by the state in which they work, following completion of a master’s degree, post-master’s training, and site-based internship. Typically, a School Psychologist will have an Educational Specialist Degree (Ed.S). They also may be nationally certified by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). The majority of school psychologists work in public schools, however, other settings of practice include private school systems, clinics and hospitals, private practice, and universities. School psychologists are trained to serve all age groups from infancy through college, although they primarily serve school-aged children.
School psychologists are qualified to provide a broad range of skills to address student needs and to improve school support systems. Their skills enable them to offer comprehensive psychological evaluations, as well as consult with school personnel in relation to students’ learning, behavior, and environments. They provide individual, group, and organizational interventions, including counseling. School psychologists work with children individually and in groups. Additionally, they provide trainings to teachers regarding various learning and mental health topics (e.g., behavior management, referral process, ADHD, etc.). Although school psychologists are not generally trained teachers, they do bring a unique stance to the educational arena. Their training allows them to look at the efficacy and effectiveness of academic programs, classroom agendas, and treatment interventions, and their expertise in research and planning provides a strong base in the development of interventions. The specific role(s) a school psychologist act in are usually defined by the system in which they work.
One of the primary duties of school psychologists is assessment. School psychologists assess students suspected of having a disability as part of the process in determining eligibility for special services. A school psychologist administers a cognitive battery to obtain a level of intellectual functioning and academic potential. This battery also provides a better understanding of the student’s strengths and weaknesses. Personality assessments are used to obtain data about a student’s emotional and behavioral functioning. A strong aspect of assessment is the collaborative process in which the school psychologist obtains the teachers’ and parents’ perspectives. This allows the school psychologist to develop a comprehensive picture of the student, his or her functioning, and how interventions can be developed. Through this process, a multidisciplinary team is developed to determine if a disability is interfering with a student’s ability to learn.
School psychologists are also trained to offer consultation to teachers as a method of establishing interventions for a student in a classroom. Consultation is intended to be a cooperative process between school psychologists and teachers as an effort to promote success in students who are struggling. It can be used to help intervene with children displaying behavioral, emotional, or academic difficulties and help prevent the development of a more serious problem. Together, the school psychologist and the teacher identify the problem, develop specific goals, brainstorm interventions, and create a plan to help the student become more successful. The psychologist helps the teacher to develop a detailed and specific plan for the student. Again, one of the key components of this relationship is collaboration.
The counseling aspect of school psychologists allows for a wide repertoire of interventions, such as organizational skill building and social skills training. Services are usually provided in an individual or group basis, and the availability of these services varies from system to system.
The roles of a school psychologist range from consultation to assessment to intervention. A school psychologist uses a high level of training, as well as collaboration with those in his or her setting, to develop programs of prevention and intervention so that a level playing ground can be afforded to all students. Ultimately, a school psychologist is a resource for the system, providing support within a collaborative team model.