School Psychology is an applied sub-field of Psychology committed to serving children and adolescents in educational settings such that they can access and experience school as best as possible. As a field, School Psychology is at the intersections of education, mental health, and human development. The American Psychological Association (APA) describes these professionals as “prepared to intervene at the individual and system levels, and develop, implement, and evaluate programs to promote positive learning environments for children and youth from diverse backgrounds, and to ensure equal access to effective educational and psychological services that promote health development.” Further, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) says that this field applies “expertise in mental health, learning, and behavior, to help children and youth succeed academically, socially, behaviorally, and emotionally.” Note that School Psychology should not be confused with its close relative, Educational Psychology, which is an academic/research field focused on the processes of learning in educational settings but does not share the applied focus on working directly with students in a helping capacity.
School Psychology is a great career for someone who cares deeply about learning, loves the school setting, enjoys working with youth of diverse needs and backgrounds, and can be an actively contributing team member with lots of initiative. School Psychologists are “uniquely qualified members of school teams that support students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach,” according to NASP. This career is often a highly team-based role, given the ways that School Psychologists are integrated into the school system and partnered “with families, teachers, school administrators, and other professionals to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments that strengthen connections between home, school, and the community.” The APA lists the following as core areas of knowledge held by School Psychologists: “psychoeducational assessment and diagnosis, intervention, prevention, health promotion, and program development focusing on children and youth development with the context of schools, families and other systems.” So if those sound like things you would like to study, you may be a great candidate! Also, while the roles are sometimes similar, collaborative, and overlapping in responsibilities, it should be noted that School Psychologists are indeed unique from School Social Workers and School Counselors; both are involved in assessment and intervention with kids in school systems, but the Social Workers and Counselors tend to do more of the hands-on clinical interviewing whereas the School Psychologists tend to do more of the testing for capacity/aptitude/cognition issues and IEP development.
As the name implies, School Psychologists tend to work in schools! Specifically, they may be hired by individual schools, school districts, or ISDs. They are employed in a wide variety of educational settings ranging from pre-school/kindergarten to high school, and ranging from urban and suburban to rural settings. It should also be noted that School Psychologists who become licensed can also seek work elsewhere just like Counseling Psychologists or Clinical Psychologists (e.g., private practice or hospital settings). However, most commonly, School Psychologists work in schools.
Degree: To become a School Psychologist, one must first complete a bachelor’s degree (B.A. or B.S., or perhaps B.S.W.). Psychology would be the most common choice of undergraduate major, but not necessarily the only option. Next, one would need to complete a graduate degree program at either the master’s level (M.A. or M.S. in School Psychology), the specialist level (Ed.S., S.S.P., or Psy.S. in School Psychology) or the doctoral level (Ph.D. or Psy.D. in School Psychology). Doctoral programs in this field tend to be very competitive, more than master’s programs, and are typically geared toward preparation for careers in academics and research. The master’s level of training is sufficient in some contexts, but others will require at least a specialist’s degree (which you could think of as similar to everything from a doctoral degree minus the dissertation project). It is important to select graduate programs which are APA-Accredited, as this may impact licensure eligibility later. A master’s typically takes 1.5 to 3 years of study, the specialist’s degree is 3-4 years, and the doctorate typically takes 5-7 years.
License: To be practicing as a School Psychologist in the state of Michigan, one needs to be licensed. A doctoral level psychologist is eligible to pursue the status of “Licensed Psychologist” (LP) whereas a master’s or specialist’s level clinician can pursue a status of “Limited Licensed Psychologist” (LLP). Both the LP and LLP routes require a certain number of supervised hours in clinical practice, as well as a passing score on a standardized exam called the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). To learn more about licensing options, check out LARA’s info for psychologists.
Training: There are well over one hundred graduate programs in School Psychology throughout the US and Canada. This APA Graduate Study Database is one way to explore the many available options. There are several programs in-state (e.g., GVSU, MSU, CMU), but it is worth noting that one need not attend graduate school in-state in order to eventually build a career here. In fact there may be many out-of-state programs which better fit one’s goals, and the time spent in a different local culture can be an important source of growth.
School Psychologists are often motivated by their love of the school setting and their desire to help see each child thrive! They are a profession offering a special combination of skills incorporating psychometrics and individualized assessment, planning and coordination of educational intervention techniques, and team-based consultation with teachers, parents, principals, and others in the school system. The work itself is rewarding, and importantly there is often a great local need for School Psychologists so one’s career is likely to be very stable over time! In fact, recently, the governor issued a statement about the “critical shortage” of School Psychologists in our state.
Relevant State-Level Organization
Michigan Association of School Psychologists
Michigan Psychological Association
Relevant National Organization
National Association of School Psychology
Division of School Psychology (APA Division 16)
American Board of Professional Psychology
The Association for Psychological Science