What does a school psychologist do? Breaking down this collaborative career
Psychology is an expansive field with many different specialties. Some may think of a traditional clinical psychologist, who works with adults one-on-one in an office or hospital setting. Others may think of a child psychologist who specializes in helping young clients with their emotional and mental health.
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 is a school psychologist? What skills do they need? And how do I become a school psychologist? We compiled some expert insight 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 a basic school psychologist job description. These professionals are trained 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 ages and as old as college ages. 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.
A day in the life of a school psychologist
“As a school psychologist, you have to expect the unexpected and be ready to recalibrate your day as you go,” says Dr. Maureen Dalman-Schroeder, part-time assistant professor at Brandman University and California delegate of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).
Dr. Dalman-Schroeder says her day may begin with a set schedule, only to have an administrator request she conduct a threat assessment (a violence prevention strategy that involves identifying student threats to commit violent acts, determining the seriousness of the threat, and developing an intervention plan if necessary). 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 facilitate discussions between parents and educators to ensure the child’s needs are understood and met.
“A day in the life of a school psychologist varies greatly,” Dr. Dalman-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 excel in this role.
How do school psychologists differ from school counselors?
In comparing school psychologists versus school counselors, there are several 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 individual students through various developmental and mental health issues. They focus on assessing and testing those who may qualify for additional services.
School counselors also touch on some of these factors, 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.
Dr. Dalman-Schroeder says that some of the duties school psychologists and school counselors share include counseling, developing intervention plans, and collaborating with parents and teachers. One of the main differences, she notes, is school psychologists address more of the 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,” Dr. Dalman-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?
If the idea of helping students overcome obstacles and succeed in life and school inspires you, you might be wondering how to become a school psychologist. The first step on the journey is an advanced degree - you won’t be eligible to obtain proper licensure to practice without one. You can begin your studies with a bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject, 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 an Education Specialist degree in School Psychology. Some may choose an emphasis like autism, English language learners, applied behavior analysis or other relevant subfields.
Once you’ve earned your advanced degree, you can then apply for your license. School psychologist requirements vary from state to state because each has its own process, so be sure to check specifics in your area. In most states, schools are credentialed by the Department of Education.
What skills do school psychologists need?
While psychologists of all kinds share many overlapping competencies and traits, school psychologists are experts in issues that commonly arise in school-age children. We used real-time job analysis software to examine more than 25,000 school psychologist jobs posted over the past year. The data* helped us identify the top skills employers are looking for in candidates.
Top baseline skills:
- Scheduling and administration
- Patient education and support
- Mental health disease and therapies
- Disorder diagnosis/treatment/care
- Communication skills
Top specialized skills:
- Special education
- Autism diagnosis/treatment/care
- Report writing
- Staff development
- Crisis intervention
What is a typical school psychologist salary?
Your main motivation for becoming a school psychologist might not be money, but it’s still an important factor to consider. A career 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 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the average school psychologist salary in 2020 was $79,820, which is nearly twice the average for all occupations. While psychologist jobs in general are expected to remain stable in the coming years, the BLS projects employment of school psychologists to grow faster. As society becomes more aware of the importance of mental health, there is an increased need for these services in schools.
Start making a difference as a school psychologist
So what do school psychologists do, exactly? By now, you probably have a better idea. After exploring the school psychologist job description and understanding the typical duties and career outlook, 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 from Brandman University’s School of Education.
*Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 27,108 school psychologist job postings, May. 01, 2020 - Apr. 30, 2021)
*This article was original published in 2018 and was last updated June 2021.
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