Often times the field of school psychology is confused with other professions, such as a school counselor or child psychiatrist, that help children in school. In actuality, while similar in some respects, they are very different professions with different skill sets and educational backgrounds. Let’s explore the role that each school-based professional plays in a child’s development.
A school psychologist works with a wide range of student’s emotional and academic issues. They may engage in crisis prevention and intervention services. This professional may consult with teachers, parents, and administrators about learning, social, and behavior problems. They may communicate psychological evaluations to understand a student’s difficulties and how to better accommodate the student’s needs. They may work with students through individual counseling, skills training, and support groups. A school psychologist may also assist educators to create a safe and healthy classroom at one or multiple schools in a school district. Many people who work in this role enjoy the job because of the diverse contributions it brings to the school. They may engage in alternative school programs, behavior management, parenting skills, problem-solving strategies, substance abuse, and serving the needs of at-risk students, students with disabilities, and special education assessments.
Most school psychologists work in a public or private K-12 school setting, hospitals, clinics, community agencies, and even colleges and universities. A specialist-level degree will allow a person to work as a practitioner or administrator; however, a doctorate degree will also allow the person to obtain a job as a researcher or as part of faculty at a major university. The specialist level degree usually takes about 60 graduate semester credits in school psychology with a 1200-hour internship. The doctorate generally takes about 5-7 years of full-time study to complete and requires 1500 internship hours with a completed dissertation.
The role of a school counselor differs from a school psychologist in that they lack the training to work with special education populations. School psychology brings together the study of the mind, development, and education with an emphasis on students at risk, disabilities, and other behavioral and instructional interventions. School counselors work with an entire school population regardless of mental or emotional issues and provide a variety of counseling, such as career planning and course scheduling.
School psychology positions are funded through special education monies from the district. They may work jointly with social workers or other clinicians in the treatment of children. While school psychologists meet educational requirements to practice in the field, so does a school counselor. Most school counselors have a master’s degree from an accredited program recognized by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), which usually takes about two years full-time study and 600 hours of supervised internship.
On the other hand, child psychologists are doctorate-level clinicians who deal with a wide range of issues other than school-related topics. The child psychologist has a strong background in child development and psychology. Their training will generally not include topics on instruction, classroom management and the dynamics within a school organization. An education in child psychology emphasizes psychopathology and long-term therapy. To practice as a child psychologist, an individual needs a doctorate, but most states will allow a school psychologist to practice with a master’s degree.
A child psychologist mostly works in a hospital, mental health center, or in a private practice. They work directly with the student and sometimes their parent or guardian as opposed to teachers and administrators. For the most part, psychologists are not licensed to administer medication, although a few states do allow doctoral-level clinical psychologists with additional training to prescribe medication. School psychology involves working with medical professionals to determine the appropriate medication, or they may be give medication to a student who has ADD, ADHS, or suffers from depression.
Educational/School Psychology Programs
School psychology programs may occur within or outside of school settings. These programs may be offered at schools, community mental health centers, correctional facilities, and hospitals. Funding for these programs is usually acquired through grants and prevention and early intervention projects. People who enter this field may be responsible for evaluating students’ needs; training school staff, parents, and students; working with students with different disabilities and those who are at-risk; and may conduct research. A broad range of activities are usually what this profession has to offer. The school psychologist is trained in child psychology, learning, and development within a school environment. The education they receive is helpful in linking mental health to learning and behavior. Their job is to help students succeed academically, emotionally, and socially at home and at school. Below are several school psychology programs and their framework:
Bullying Prevention and Intervention
Bullying prevention and intervention programs reduce the risks for all students. These school psychology programs target why bullying occurs by analyzing the behavior of victims and bullies. A school-wide program will offer a value-based system that focuses on caring and respect for one another. It outlines positive discipline and supports and clearly conveys behavioral expectations and consequences. This program will involve some level of skill development and may require increased adult supervision and parental involvement at school and at home. Early intervention will teach positive behavior and provide bullies and victims with support through meetings and counseling. Principals are usually involved in school psychology programs that suit the schools needs. A successful bullying prevention and intervention program will be coordinated with other schools in the district so that students receive consistent training throughout their schooling. It may involve the entire school community by developing a code of conduct to reinforce behaviors. Parents may hold meetings to foster a caring school community and there may be an established protocol for investigating a bullying incident. Cyber-bullying has been on the rise, and schools and parents can help track down and stop the abuse.
Eating disorders are best treated and diagnosed early through a combination of medical interventions and psychotherapy. Young adults who suffer from eating disorders are subject to suicide, however if treatment is received early enough, they have shown significant improvement. Although school psychology programs may not be involved in individual counseling, staff may be advised of the problems a student may be encountering or they may identify a student who should receive help. In addition, the school may create programs that focus on physical education that builds and establishes healthy habits and not weight management. Physical education teachers should be involved in these programs to avoid weigh-ins and body fat testing and to avoid making comments about a student’s appearance. School psychology programs may provide students with general information about eating disorders and advise students of where to go to receive help. School lunches and vending machine options may be evaluated to ensure there are healthy menu options. Healthy eating and lifestyle information should be included in a health curriculum to teach children to eat a variety of nutritious foods and about the importance of daily movement and exercise.
Helping Homeless Students
Homelessness is a societal problem that most of people do not know how to solve. Homeless students constitute a real problem in many of our schools, and school staff members may be the only models for children living in this manner. The schools that these children attend may provide the only sense of stability and self-worth they have. Thus, intervention programs to ensure that these children graduate from school are the only chance they have for educational or career opportunities. Staff members should be aware of available services to assist and support homeless youth. Workshops should be created to educate teachers and staff about the unique needs of homeless students and advise them of their educational rights and resources. Helpful information should be made available for teachers, students, and parents that advise them of homeless students’ privacy and emotional health protection issues.
How to Become a School Psychologist
A school psychologist forms an important part of public and private education. This person’s job involves evaluating and counseling children who face emotional and psychological challenges. School psychologists are trained in psychology and education and are qualified to support and assist children who suffer from emotional and mental health issues. The field of psychology studies mental processes and the human brain. A school psychologist works with preschool to high school children, their parents, teachers, and other school staff to create a healthy, safe, and supportive learning environment. At times, this person may work with other professionals outside of the school to provide services to the child.
A school psychologist is sometimes called a school counselor since they address behavioral and learning challenges a student may face and help devise ways to improve them. School counselors may work with parents to suggest strategies in working with students and teachers on classroom management techniques. A school psychologist may work with students with disabilities or gifted students to establish education plans. At times, the school psychologist may administer psychological tests; therefore this person must be highly trained and specialized in the field. A school psychologist receives strict and rigorous training and education. The specialist degree in school psychology (Ed.S) takes about three years full-time study to complete. To begin, a person must have a bachelor’s degree and take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). The minimum educational requirements include a master’s degree to work in the profession, so the graduate will need to research the program she would like to attend. Some graduates decide to bypass the master’s degree and move right into a doctorate program after graduation. The required coursework must be completed, usually 60 graduate hours in a master’s program, to qualify for licensure. The student will also usually have to participate in a supervised internship for one year.
Once the requirements of the master’s or doctorate program are fulfilled, the student is ready to take the necessary exams to meet licensure guidelines. Licensure requirements vary by state, but one popular exam is the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (PRAXIS). Other popular organizations in the field of school psychology are: The National Association of School Psychologists which certifies school psychologists, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Council of Accreditation of Teacher Education which provide continuing education programs. The American Psychological Association (APA) monitors and provides accreditation to school psychology programs at the doctorate level.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that the job market for school psychologists will continue to grow through the year 2016. This growth is mainly due to the increased awareness of behavior and mental issues regarding learning. As a nation, we have a vested interest in improving our educational system and building the necessary skills for the future. This has led to increased research and funding in specialized degrees, particularly school psychologists who have advanced training in computer science and quantitative methods.
Average salaries for a school psychologist range from $68,000 to $90,000 per year, with the highest topping out at about $100,000 with benefits, such as medical, dental, and vision insurance. People who succeed in this field tend to like working with children and have a sincere interest in working with emotionally- and mentally-challenged students. Psychologists should be patient, understanding, and resourceful. The school counselor should also be a good listener with the ability to relate well to students. The counselor will act as part of a team of professionals who are often required to keep files and documentation.