CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a school psychologist.
Is becoming a school psychologist right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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High School and Volunteering
Researching the profession and taking beginner psychology courses while in high school will make future, more complex courses easier. Another vital step for a potential school psychologist is to volunteer in the field. Hospitals, mental health clinics, shelters, and community centers often seek volunteers to assist with their programs involving children and youth. Experience in these environments provides exposure to the profession and its specialties. If possible, develop Spanish-language skills. Graduates who speak Spanish may find increased job opportunities in the sub-field of English-as-Second-Language (ESL) education.
Bachelor’s Degree and More Volunteering
Earn a Bachelor’s degree in psychology or education. Students who earn a degree in an unrelated field are strongly advised to take key courses in areas such as abnormal psychology, social psychology, developmental psychology, and statistics.
Continue to gain practical experience by volunteering or working in a school-psychology related area. This will provide further insight into the developmental and educational responsibilities of school psychologists. It will allow you to refine your interests in the field, demonstrate your commitment to the profession, and will ultimately bolster your applications to graduate school.
Master’s Degree / Education Specialist (Ed.S.) Degree
Graduate programs in school psychology go by a few different names: Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Education (M.Ed.) and Education Specialist (Ed.S.). Oftentimes, programs will combine a Master’s degree with the Ed.S. certificate. Regardless, it is important to enroll in a program that is approved by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and will prepare them for state or national licensure.
NASP-approved programs typically consist of three years of study. In the first year, students take foundational coursework that teaches them about the scientific and professional roles of school psychologists. Coursework may include cognitive assessment; statistics and research methods; counseling techniques; and psychopathology. The second year requires that students complete one or more practicums while taking courses in advanced intervention and counseling techniques. The third year is devoted to a full-time internship of twelve hundred hours, of which six hundred hours must be in a school setting.
While most school psychology programs include some training in research methodology, students who wish to eventually complete a doctoral degree may want to pursue additional opportunities to conduct independent research and gain further experience.
The Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential is offered by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). To earn this credential, school psychologists must have completed a graduate program and internship in school psychology, preferably from an NASP-approved school, and achieve a passing score on the Praxis II school psychology exam. The NCSP is a voluntary certification, but many states require it or accept it in place of other licensure requirements.
All states require that school psychologists be licensed. Licensure requirements are usually very similar, if not identical, to the requirements for the Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential. Therefore, individuals may only have to provide proof of their NCSP certification in order to obtain state licensure. Graduates without the NCSP certification will have to present proof of their graduate degree, internship experience, and passing score on the Praxis II school psychology exam.
Doctoral Degree (optional)
Although not required for most entry-level school psychologist positions, an increasing number of school psychologists have begun earning a doctoral degree. Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) programs can be entered either directly from a Bachelor's degree or after completing a Master's degree. Students who have completed a Master's degree and school psychology internship are generally more competitive candidates. Bachelor's degree graduates will need to meet course prerequisites and demonstrate a commitment to school psychology through research and work experience.
A doctorate in school psychology usually involves 2-5 years of study and research, an internship, and a dissertation. Doctoral graduates may command better salaries as specialists and may have wider opportunities, including teaching and research positions with colleges, universities, and agencies.
Join the National Association of School Psychologist (NASP) and the American Psychological Association (APA). Avail yourself of their job boards, career centers, and general networking opportunities. Stay current on issues and continued certification requirements in the field by reading professional journals such as The Journal of School Psychology, The School Psychology Review, and The School Psychology Quarterly.
How to become a School Psychologist
Above all, school psychologists must be comfortable and motivated by working with children and youth, both individually and in groups. Their initial mandate is to provide counselling; conduct educational and personality assessments; and address behavioral problems and learning disabilities. Their ultimate goals are to improve academic performance and resolve emotional, personal, and social issues. They may also assist with crisis situations and tackle problems such as alcohol and drug abuse.
These psychologists are called upon to take a multi-faceted approach to help students not only succeed in school, but also to help them develop into active and productive members of the community. The job is a big one, which frequently involves bringing together parents, teachers, and other education professionals to determine strategies and create plans aimed at resolution. Training for the occupation spans both educational and clinical psychology and prepares students for the career’s wide scope of duties: prevention; early intervention and treatment; assessment and diagnosis; consultation and case management; and advocacy and inter-agency collaboration. Areas of expertise in the field are:
Preventative and Responsive Services School psychologists in this who specialize in this sub-discipline are charged with educating students and their families about the potential hazards and challenges within the school environment. They also develop educational tools that promote positive learning and social practices and guard against victimization and unhealthy behavior. In addition, they provide psychological services for at-risk students.
Examples of preventative programs: -Eating disorders -Bullying and cyberbullying, including text message harassment -Lack of a sense of belonging at school or among peers
Special Education Assessment Specialists in this area spend the majority of their time performing tests and assessments and analyzing results. Using a range of psychoeducational tools and considering both medical and institutional factors, they evaluate learning disabilities, mental health issues, and special educational needs; and treat them accordingly. These professionals may further focus their specialty in a particular disorder, such as Autism.
Examples of issues requiring assessment and treatment: -Learning disabilities -Spectrum disorders, such as Autism and Asperger Syndrome -Social and behavioral abnormalities
Consultation and Counseling Services Consultation and counseling are among the most distinctive and crucial services provided by school psychologists. Working alongside teachers, staff, and students’ families, these practitioners offer confidential psychotherapy to students as treatment for a wide range of personal, social, and behavioral issues.
Examples of counseling topics: -Anxiety -Low self-esteem -Depression -Underdeveloped social skills
Student Intervention Intervention tactics used by school psychologists are designed to treat even the most advanced psychological needs of at-risk and special education students.
Examples of intervention techniques: -Behavior contracts ~ often used as preliminary step in correcting repetitive bad behavior -Response to Intervention (RTI) Model ~ an integrated, multi-tier approach to the support and mental health care of individual students within the classroom -Discrepancy Model ~ isolated treatment for individual students