School psychology as a career option has
been a popular choice among students in the U.S. and in Europe. The content and
nature of the practice of school psychology has been variously defined and the
origins are not entirely clear. I was a school psychologist from 1971 to 1994.
In fact, I was one of the first three school psychologists in the state of
Texas. The profession was very young then, since it was only in 1968 that the
National Association of School Psychology (NASP) was formed and the discipline
was formally recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a
doctoral speciality; it was later recognized by the American Board of
Professional Psychology (ABPP). During these formative years, the educational
orientation of school psychologists has varied and changed. The changes in the
profession reflect the character of the individual departments and programs as
well as the various regions of the country and diverse populations in the
communities and schools where professionals work.
How are school psychologists' roles
The role and functions of everyday practice are dictated by the employment
setting and other demographic features of the area. Other major influences have
been special and regular education rules and standards; federal and state laws
governing public schools; and all employees of the setting. With the passage of
94-142, The Education of All Handicapped Children's Act (U.S. Congress, 1975),
school psychologists have been primarily involved in assessment of and intervention
with handicapped children, offering counseling and consultation to their
teachers and families. Other important federal laws have mandated service
delivery to a variety of school populations. The development of the profession
has been called random by some writers. Now, school psychology is a recognized
speciality within psychology, with requisite standards for training,
credentialing, and service delivery.
Societal and educational contexts, education
reform, and school effectiveness literature have had significant effects on the
training and practice of school psychologists. In addition, the evolution of
the National Association of School Psychology has had a profound impact on the
profession. This organization is made up of nondoctoral professionals (80%) and
is a visible, strong, and feasible professional representative for the school
psychologist today. At the doctoral level, Division 16, the Division of School
Psychology, is a much smaller organization with approximately 2,000 members. It
is made up of doctoral professionals, most of whom are trainers in universities
and colleges. Most states have state associations of school psychology that
have an impact on school psychologists' role and function within their
respective states through active lobbying.
What are the actual job functions?
School psychologists, at all levels, work as applied scientists and
interventionists, descriptionists, rational empiricists, and systems managers.
Their expertise varies according to their level of training and practice, but
generally, school psychologists provide assessments and diagnoses, oversee
interventions ranging from individual counseling to group and family work, and
provide consultation to teachers, administrators, community agencies, parent
groups, and youth. They also provide supervision, pre-services, and in-service
training to teachers, administrators, and professional groups. In addition,
school psychologists perform program evaluations, develop case studies, and use
applied research methods to solve school problems and professional practice
questions. In response to the growing numbers of children referred for either
educational or mental health difficulties, school psychologists also focus on
primary prevention in schools and communities.
School psychology has finally laid claim to
its expertise in dealing with children in a wide variety of settings.
Regardless of where these professionals work, they provide a wide variety of
services to the populations they serve. School psychologists share functions with
clinical, counseling, organizational, and experimental psychology. In a sense,
school psychology is a hybrid of several specialities and continues to evolve
in its practice and service delivery techniques. Doctoral school psychologists
bring additional supervisory and program evaluation skills. They also possess
research knowledge beyond that which nondoctoral school psychologists can
provide. However, the bottom line with regard to job role development is the
social context and individual creativity of the professional.
Where do school psychologists work?
The primary places of
employment for professionals with master's or specialist-level degrees are
public and private schools. School psychologists work with diverse ages, from
infant programs to high school, and you will find a great variety of services
provided by each professional. In many states master's- and specialist-level
professionals also have private practice options as well as career paths with
clinics or state institutions. School psychologists also work with other
professionals in human services and mental health clinics. Those at this level
are guided by the National Association of School Psychology Standards of
Professional Training as well as state certification and licensing standards
for training and functioning.
Doctoral school psychologists have a variety
of career options as well. Many doctoral professionals work in private and
public schools or at universities and colleges. Others, as recipients of PhD,
PsyD, or EdD degrees, have options of public or private practice if they hold
the appropriate licenses for the state in which they live. Doctoral-level
school psychologists, when employed by school systems, are often in
administrative roles as well as service delivery roles. The roles and functions
of doctoral psychologists are guided by professional standards set forth by the
American Psychological Association (1981) and the National Association of
School Psychology (1984).
How do you find training programs?
The two best guides to training programs are APA's Guide to Graduate Programs in Psychology (1996) and NASP's Directory of School Psychology Training Programs
(1984). The APA guide gives descriptions of programs at the doctoral level,
while the NASP guide has descriptions of master's, specialist, and doctoral
Training programs can be found in every
state at the specialist, master's, and doctoral levels. These programs are
equally housed in education departments, in educational psychology departments,
and in psychology departments. Your state psychology board should have a list
of training programs in your area, and your state's school psychology
association should also maintain lists of the programs in the NASP Directory.
What do these training programs
Programs range in hours and training from 40 hours at the master's level to 124
hours at the doctoral level. NASP-approved programs include practicum and
internship requirements. APA programs have similar requirements for all
doctoral programs, which are more diverse in training than the NASP programs.
The NASP programs lead to students becoming qualified to take the National
School Psychology Certification Examination. This specialist certification is
often connected to the state certification and licensure laws and rules. You
need to check with your state board of psychology and your state education
agency for local requirements.
Doctoral programs will also have a specific
model of training, either the scientist-practitioner
model or the applied professional model.
In the past it was more common to find a scientist-
researcher model program whose graduates were primarily trained to
take academic positions and be researchers. Few such programs exist today.
model assumes that all psychologists receive basic training in core areas of
psychology, such as quantitative methods, personality theory, history and
systems of psychology, developmental psychology, learning, motivation,
cognition, social psychology, and the biological basis of behavior. Programs
based on this model are similar to those offered in other fields of psychology.
professional model also is currently employed in a number of
programs. This model focuses more on applied course work rather than on core
theoretical courses. Typical course work for programs espousing this model
include intelligence assessment, learning problems assessment, consultation,
social problems assessment, general educational theory, special education,
behavioral interventions and assessment, history and systems of psychology,
developmental and learning theories, neuropsychology, and abnormal psychology.
Current trends are shifting away from the scientist-practitioner model and
toward the applied professional model. New programs in school psychology at the
doctoral level tend to be PsyD rather than PhD programs.
What about salary, flexibility, job
If you work in the public service sector, you can expect slightly lower
salaries than if you work in private business. Salaries are competitive with
all other school or clinic professionals, and if you work in the schools, your
work contract will follow the school calendar. It is an especially excellent
choice for both men and women who want to marry and raise a family. The close
ties of the employment contract with the school work day and school terms can
be a great advantage in your family life.
Reschly and Wilson (1995) reported on the
characteristics of practitioners and faculty from 1986 to 1992. These authors
suggest that there have been some changes in demographics, in that women are
more likely to be practitioners and men are more likely to hold faculty
positions. High job satisfaction was reported in both settings with some
concern about advancement opportunities among the practitioners. Salaries were
good, but there was a difference between faculty and practitioners. Faculty
reported more outside employment income than practitioners and differed by
$9,000 on the average salary. Average faculty income was $57,000; doctoral
practitioners, $51,000; and nondoctoral, $40,000. These are not entry-level
salaries, as the mean years of experience was about 15. Also, this study did
not consider gender, age, or geographic area. Overall changes from two earlier
studies suggest a graying of the school psychologists and significant degree
changes from fewer master's degrees to more specialist-level degrees. Eighty
percent of the graduates in school psychology training programs are at the
specialist level as reported in 1991 in a study by Reschly and McMaster-Beyer.
After 24 years, I can say with confidence
that school psychology is a promising field, and there are many job
opportunities in a variety of settings. You can work at the nondoctoral level
or at the doctoral level, in traditional or nontraditional settings. As you
narrow your career choices, take some time to consider school psychology!
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(1996). Graduate study in psychology.
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school psychologists. Washington, DC: Author.
Batsche, G. (1995). Best practices in
credentialing and continuing professional development. In Best Practices (5). Washington, DC: NASP.
Brown, T., & Minke, K. (Eds.). (1984). Directory of school psychology training programs.
National Association of School Psychology.
(1984a). Standards for the provision of
school psychological services. Washington, DC: Author.
National Association of School Psychology.
(1984b). Standards for training and field
placement programs in school psychology. Washington, DC: Author.
Prus, J., White, G., & Pendleton, A.
(1988). Handbook of certification/licensure
requirements for school psychologists (4th ed.). Washington, DC:
Reschly, D., & McMaster-Beyer, M. D.
(1991). Influences of degree level, institutional orientation, college
affiliation, and accreditation status on school psychology graduate education.
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Reschly, D. & Wilson, M. (1995). School
psychology practitioners and faculty: 1986 to 1991-92 trends in demographics,
roles, satisfaction, and system reform. School
Psychology Review, 24(1), 62-80.
This article is the first in a new series of articles on nonclinical degrees
and careers in psychology. This presentation was originally delivered at the
67th Annual Convention of the Rocky Mountain Psychological Association, April