What does a school psychologist do? An inside look at this invaluable role
Psychology is an expansive field with many subsets and niches. Some may think of a traditional clinical psychologist who helps adults in an office setting. Others may think of a child psychologist, someone who makes house calls to help children.
With all these facets of psychology, it can be difficult to discern not only what each role entails, but also what positions are even available. Perhaps you’re interested in working with kids, but you’re unsure of what your options are.
One role to consider is that of a school psychologist. You may ask yourself: What does a school psychologist do? Who can become a school psychologist? And how do I become a school psychologist? We spoke with an expert to answer your questions and help you navigate this rewarding and in-demand career.
What does a school psychologist do?
To understand the more specific aspects of this career, it’s helpful to begin with defining the role. School psychologists are trained professionals who work to identify, address and overcome learning and behavioral needs in school-aged children.
School psychologists are responsible for a wide range of duties. They primarily work in schools, focusing their attention on students as young as elementary school-age and as old as college-age. These professionals provide in-depth psychological services with the goal of helping students succeed academically, socially, behaviorally and emotionally.
Some typical services they provide include helping students who are bullied and those who face struggles like poor academic performance, problems at home or mental health issues. School psychologists also help students who have disabilities. This wide range of services means no two days on the job will look the same.
“As a school psychologist, you have to expect the unexpected and be ready to recalibrate your day as you go,” says Maureen Schroeder, part-time assistant professor at Brandman University and president-elect of the California Association of School Psychologists.
Schroeder says her day may begin with a set schedule, only to have an administrator request she conduct a threat assessment. Or, she may need to have a student come in for testing. She assists pupils who need individual counseling, works with students who have severe anxiety and helps parents better understand their child’s behavior.
School psychologists, as you might assume, work mainly with students, but they also collaborate with teachers, parents and school counselors. School psychologists often work closely with special education teachers to develop individualized education plans (IEPs) and monitor student progress. They may also request parents come in to discuss their child’s needs or to make them aware of any special needs.
“A day in the life of a school psychologist varies greatly,” Schroeder says. Since you never know what student or teacher will come to your office, being flexible, patient and open to change will help you in this role.
How do school psychologists differ from school counselors?
School psychologists and school counselors have many overlapping duties. As such, the career titles are commonly confused. But they each have a unique role and scope of practice.
School psychologists work to support students through various developmental and mental health issues on an individual level. They focus on assessing and testing students who may qualify for special services.
School counselors also touch on mental health issues, but they tend to work with the entire student population. Their work can also include crisis intervention and preparing students for future educational and professional experiences.
Schroeder says that some of the duties school psychologists and school counselors share include counselling, collaborating with parents and teachers and developing intervention plans. One of the main differences, she notes, is school psychologists address more of a student’s mental health.
“We help educate parents on how their child learns and what may be hindering their learning by explaining the connection between intelligence and academic achievement,” Schroeder says. She adds that school psychologists are also the ones who determine whether a student requires special education services.
How do you become a school psychologist?
At the end of the day, school psychologists serve to help students overcome the obstacles hindering their success. If this idea inspires you, you’re probably wondering what it takes to become one.
The short and simple answer? You’ll need a degree. An advanced education is required to receive the proper licensure and to be eligible for a position as a school psychologist. You can begin your studies with a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as psychology or education, to gauge your interest in the field.
In most states, though, you’ll need a graduate degree to qualify for licensure. You typically need a Master of Arts, Master of Education or Education Specialist degree. Once you’ve obtained your advanced degree, you can then apply for your license.
Each state’s licensure requirements are a bit different, so be sure to check the specifics in your area. In most states, school psychologists are credentialed by the Department of Education.
What is the job outlook for school psychologists?
As the emphasis on the connection between mental health and learning grows, so will the need for qualified professionals in the mental health arena. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts jobs for school psychologists will grow 14 percent through 2026—that’s twice as fast the average of all occupations.
But job security is only one important piece of the puzzle when choosing a career. Financial security matters, too. A position that’s both personally fulfilling and financially rewarding can be difficult to come by, but school psychologists can have the best of both worlds. The BLS reports the median annual salary for clinical, counseling and school psychologists in 2016 was $73,270, with the most experienced professionals in this realm earning as much as $120,320 annually.
Start making a difference as a school psychologist
So what does a school psychologist do, exactly? By now, you probably have a better idea. You also know a little more about how they differ from similar roles, how you can become one and even how secure the field is. Equipped with this information, you may feel called to pursue a career in the field.
Learn how you can start on your journey toward the rewarding role of a school psychologist by perusing the Educational Specialist degrees on our School of Education page.
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