What is their training?
A school psychologist is a Specialized Instructional Support Personnel who has graduated with a Ph.D., Psy.D., Ed.S, or MA + CAGS from an accredited program in school psychology. A Ph.D. or doctorate of philosophy includes extensive coursework, a pre-doctoral internship and a dissertation.
Ph.D. programs are often very research-focused. In contrast, a Psy.D. or doctorate of psychology is often a more clinical program with less of a research component. A Psy.D. also requires an internship and a publishable paper/ project. Some Ph.D. programs may have fewer research requirements, and some Psy.D. programs may have more research. Every program is unique, but the research component is generally the difference. The American Psychological Association (APA) outlines certain training standards for doctoral programs in school psychology. Programs must meet these standards in order to be APA-accredited. For all of these clinicians, after a pre-doctoral internship and dissertation (or publishable paper for Psy.D.) defense, the degree is conferred and the clinician is called “doctor.”
Ed.S. (Education Specialist) programs, and MA + CAGS (Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies) are other degrees in school psychology. National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)-approved programs in these disciplines must meet certain training standards as outlined by NASP.
School psychology programs focus on the age range of birth to age 22 and have special consideration for the diagnosis and treatment of disabilities that impact education, such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, Autism, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), anxiety and depression.
Each state has different requirements to obtain and maintain a credential/license. Each state requires a school psychologist to take and pass the Praxis ® in School Psychology or examination of professional practice in psychology (EPPP). Once an individual has gone through this rigorous process, he or she is granted a credential that is regulated by the state. Most states require biannual professional development and renewal of licensure. In addition, the National Association of School Psychologists offers a national credential—Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP). To become a NCSP, a school psychologist must have gone through a rigorous process before he or she is granted the credential. To maintain the credential, triennial professional development is required, including triennial ethics training.
When you need this professional, what do they do?
School Psychologists are unique in that they have expertise in educational/academic areas as well as mental health. The primary roles of a School Psychologist vary by state and by district. These roles include but are not limited to assessment, counseling, academic intervention, behavioral intervention, mental health intervention, and consultation. School psychologists working in a school setting do not diagnose; they make educational identification. This professional may be a doctor but may not be able to diagnose your child because they may not hold a license for clinical practice. Often, school psychologists do not pursue licensure, but if they want to work in clinical practice, they must.
You may need a school psychologist if you are concerned about your child’s behavioral, social, emotional or academic experience at school. If your child is getting in trouble in class, a school psychologist may teach positive behavior and may collaborate with your child’s teacher. If your child is having trouble making friends, a school psychologist may provide a social group or other intervention. If your child is struggling emotionally, some school psychologists provide mental health counseling. Finally, if your child is struggling with learning, a school psychologist can provide academic intervention or conduct an evaluation.
Can they diagnose?
No. School psychologists do not diagnose within the school setting.
What they do not do
School psychologists do not diagnose mental health disorders. They do not prescribe or recommend medication. School Psychologists may not provide counseling for highly clinically involved students unless they are specifically trained to do so. School psychologists are not qualified to advise about or to treat some extreme behaviors. If your child has psychotic symptoms or extreme behaviors that are outside of the bounds of the school psychologist’s practice, he or she is charged with making every effort to find an appropriate provider in the district or community.
How to find one
If your school is fortunate enough to have a school psychologist, that person can likely be contacted through your school receptionist. Many districts have a school psychologist that covers multiple schools. In that case, you may need to check the school website or the district website for contact information. Some school psychologists are spread very thin in terms of time with individual students, which might mean that your child’s school psychologist mostly conducts testing and does not provide much in the way of intervention. If this availability issue is the case, your child will likely have access to a school counselor or social worker instead. The receptionist or registrar at your child’s school would be able to direct you to the appropriate mental health provider.