School Psychology

School Psychology

School psychology is a field that applies principles of clinical psychology and educational psychology to the diagnosis and treatment of children's and adolescents' behavioral and learning problems. School psychologists are educated in psychology, child and adolescent development, child and adolescent psychopathology, education, family and parenting practices, learning theories, and personality theories. They are knowledgeable about effective instruction and effective schools. They are trained to carry out psychological and psychoeducational assessment, counseling, and consultation, and in the ethical, legal and administrative codes of their profession.

Historical foundations of school psychology

School psychology dates back to the beginning of American psychology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The field is tied to both functional and clinical psychology. School psychology actually came out of functional psychology. School psychologists were interested in childhood behaviors, learning processes, and dysfunction with life or in the brain itself. They wanted to understand the causes of the behaviors and their effects on learning. In addition to its origins in functional psychology, school psychology is also the earliest example of clinical psychology, beginning around 1890. While both clinical and school psychologists wanted to help improve the lives of children, they approached it in different ways. School psychologists were concerned with school learning and childhood behavioral problems, which largely contrasts the mental health focus of clinical psychologists.

Social reform in the early 1900s

The late 19th century marked the era of social reforms directed at children. It was due to these social reforms that the need for school psychologists emerged. These social reforms included compulsory schooling, juvenile courts, child labor laws as well as a growth of institutions serving children. Society was starting to "change the 'meaning of children' from an economic source of labor to a psychological source of love and affection". Historian Thomas Fagan argues that the preeminent force behind the need for school psychology was compulsory schooling laws. Prior to the compulsory schooling law, only 20% of school aged children completed elementary school and only 8% completed high school. Due to the compulsory schooling laws, there was an influx of students with mental and physical defects who were required by law to be in school. There needed to be an alternative method of teaching for these different children. Between 1910 and 1914, schools in both rural and urban areas created small special education classrooms for these children. From the emergence of special education classrooms came the need for "experts" to help assist in the process of child selection for special education. Thus, school psychology was founded.

Important contributors to the founding

Lightner Witmer

Lightner Witmer has been acknowledged as the founder of school psychology. Witmer was a student of both Wilhelm Wundt and James Mckeen Cattell. While Wundt believed that psychology should deal with the average or typical performance, Cattell's teachings emphasized individual differences. Witmer followed Catell's teachings and focused on learning about each individual child's needs. Witmer opened the first psychological and child guidance clinic in 1896 at the University of Pennsylvania. Witmer's goal was to prepare psychologists to help educators solve children's learning problems, specifically those with individual differences. Witmer became an advocate for these special children. He was not focused on their deficits per se, but rather helping them overcome them, by looking at the individual's positive progress rather than all they still could not achieve. Witmer stated that his clinic helped "to discover mental and moral defects and to treat the child in such a way that these defects may be overcome or rendered harmless through the development of other mental and moral traits". He strongly believed that active clinical interventions could help to improve the lives of the individual children.

Since Witmer saw much success through his clinic, he saw the need for more experts to help these individuals. Witmer argued for special training for the experts working with exceptional children in special educational classrooms. He called for a "new profession which will be exercised more particularly in connection with educational problems, but for which the training of the psychologist will be a prerequisite".

As Witmer believed in the appropriate training of these school psychologists, he also stressed the importance of appropriate and accurate testing of these special children. The IQ testing movement was sweeping through the world of education after its creation in 1905. However, the IQ test negatively influenced special education. The IQ test creators, Lewis Terman and Henry Goddard, held a nativist view of intelligence, believing that intelligence was inherited and difficult if not impossible to modify in any meaningful way through education. These notions were often used as a basis for excluding children with disabilities from the public schools. Witmer argued against the standard pencil and paper IQ and Binet type tests in order to help select children for special education. Witmer's child selection process included observations and having children perform certain mental tasks.

Granville Stanley Hall

Another important figure to the origin of school psychology was Granville Stanley Hall. Rather than looking at the individual child as Witmer did, Hall focused more on the administrators, teachers and parents of exceptional children. He felt that psychology could make a contribution to the administrator system level of the application of school psychology. Hall created the child study movement, which helped to invent the concept of the "normal" child. Through Hall's child study, he helped to work out the mappings of child development and focused on the nature and nurture debate of an individual's deficit. Hall's main focus of the movement was still the exceptional child despite the fact that he worked with atypical children.

Arnold Gesell

Bridging the gap between the child study movement, clinical psychology and special education was the first person in the United States to officially hold the title of school psychologist, Arnold Gesell. He successfully combined psychology and education by evaluating children and making recommendations for special teaching. Arnold Gesell paved the way for future school psychologists.

Education

Unlike clinical psychology and counseling psychology, which often are doctoral-only fields, school psychology includes individuals with Master's (M.A., M.S., M.Ed.), Specialist (Ed.S. or SSP), Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies (CAGS), and doctoral (Ph.D., Psy.D. or Ed.D.) degrees. In the past, a Master's degree was considered the standard for practice in schools, but the National Association of School Psychologists currently recognizes the 60-credit-hour Specialist degree as the most appropriate level of training needed for entry-level school-based practice. According to the NASP Research Committee (NASP Research Committee, 2007), in 2004-05, 33% of school psychologists possessed Master's degrees, 35% possessed Specialist (Ed.S. or SSP) degrees, and 32% possessed doctoral (Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D.) degrees.

School psychology training programs are housed in university schools of education or departments of psychology; in Specialist degree programs, the former typically results in an Ed.S. degree, while the latter results in an SSP degree. School psychology programs require courses, practica, and internships that cover the domains of:

  1. Data-based decision-making and accountability;
  2. Consultation and collaboration;
  3. Effective instruction and development of cognitive/academic skills;
  4. Socialization and development of life skills;
  5. Student diversity in development and learning;
  6. School and systems organization, policy development, and climate;
  7. Prevention, crisis intervention, and mental health;
  8. Home / school / community collaboration;
  9. Research and program evaluation;
  10. School psychology practice and development; and
  11. Information technology Standards for Training and Field Placement, 2007.

Specialist-level training typically requires 3–4 years of graduate training including a 9-month (1200 hour) internship in a school setting. Doctoral-level training programs typically require 5–7 years of graduate training including a 12-month internship (1500+ hours), which may be in a school or other (e.g., medical) setting. Doctoral level training differs from specialist-level training in that it requires students to take more coursework in core psychology and professional psychology. In addition, doctoral programs typically require students to learn more advanced statistics, to be involved in research endeavors, and to complete a doctoral dissertation constituting original research.

Doctoral training programs may be approved by NASP and/or accredited by the American Psychological Association. In 2007, approximately 125 programs were approved by NASP, and 58 programs were accredited by APA. Another 11 APA-accredited programs were combined (clinical/counseling/school, clinical/school, or counseling/school) programs (American Psychological Association, 2007). A list of school psychology graduate programs at all levels across the US can be found at the University of California Berkeley's website.

School psychology services

School psychologists are experts in both psychology and education. School psychologists address the educational, emotional, social, and behavioral challenges that many children, youth, and young adults experience. They apply their understanding of human development, psychopathology, the impact of culture, learning theory, the principles of effective instruction and effective schools, and the impact of parent and family functioning on children to serve learners and their families. As noted by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP, 2007) and the American Psychological Association (APA, 2007), school psychologists adhere to the scientist-practitioner framework and make decisions based on empirical research.

Although school psychologists understand that schools are important in the lives of young people, not all school psychologists are employed in schools. Many school psychologists, particularly those with doctoral degrees, practice in other settings, including clinics, hospitals, forensic settings, correctional facilities, universities, and independent practice (ABPP, n.d.).

In many states school psychologists with terminal Master's or Education Specialist degrees are limited to employment in school settings. School psychologists employed in schools conduct psychological and educational assessments, provide interventions, and develop and present prevention programs for individuals from birth to age 21. They consult with teachers, other psychological and school personnel, family physicians and psychiatrists, and other professionals about students and are actively involved in district and school crisis intervention teams. They may also provide professional development to teachers and other school personnel on topics such as positive behavior intervention plans and ADHD and carry out individual, group, and family counseling.

Employment prospects in school psychology

The job prospects in school psychology in the US are excellent. The US Department of Labor cites employment opportunities in school psychology at both the specialist and doctoral levels as among the best across all fields of psychology (U.S. Dept. of Labor, 2006-07).

According to the NASP Research Committee (2007), 74% of school psychologists are female with an average age of 46. In 2004-05, average earnings for school practitioners ranged from $56,262 for those with a 180-day annual contract to $68,764 for school psychologists with a 220-day contract.

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