What Does School Psychologist Do?

Few people possess the requisite skill set to become an excellent psychologist, as the career combines the need for both a scientific, analytical problem-solving approach together with a large dose of empathy and strong interpersonal skills. In addition, a school psychologist must often be willing to work with a wide range of ages, and the various issues that accompany a particular stage of growth. Only the best-funded schools, public or private, have a full-time psychologist on staff, so there may be a need to multi-job.

Psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how individuals relate to one another and to their environments.

 

Psychologists typically do the following

  • Conduct scientific studies of behavior and brain function
  • Observe, interview, and survey individuals
  • Identify psychological, emotional, behavioral, or organizational issues and diagnose disorders
  • Research and identify behavioral or emotional patterns
  • Test for patterns that will help them better understand and predict behavior
  • Discuss the treatment of problems with clients
  • Write articles, research papers, and reports to share findings and educate others
  • Supervise interns, clinicians, and counseling professionals

Psychologists seek to understand and explain thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behavior. They use techniques such as observation, assessment, and experimentation to develop theories about the beliefs and feelings that influence individuals.

Psychologists often gather information and evaluate behavior through controlled laboratory experiments, psychoanalysis, or psychotherapy. They also may administer personality, performance, aptitude, or intelligence tests. They look for patterns of behavior or relationships between events, and they use this information when testing theories in their research or when treating patients.

The following are examples of types of psychologists

Clinical psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Clinical psychologists help people deal with problems ranging from short-term personal issues to severe, chronic conditions.

Clinical psychologists are trained to use a variety of approaches to help individuals. Although strategies generally differ by specialty, clinical psychologists often interview patients, give diagnostic tests, and provide individual, family, or group psychotherapy. They also design behavior modification programs and help patients implement their particular program. Some clinical psychologists focus on specific populations, such as children or the elderly, or on certain specialties, such as neuropsychology.

Clinical psychologists often consult with other health professionals regarding the best treatment for patients, especially treatment that includes medication. Currently, only Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, and New Mexico allow clinical psychologists to prescribe medication to patients.

 

Counseling psychologists help patients deal with and understand problems, including issues at home, at the workplace, or in their community. Through counseling, these psychologists work with patients to identify their strengths or resources they can use to manage problems. For information on other counseling occupations, see the profiles on marriage and family therapists, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, and social workers.

 

Developmental psychologists study the psychological progress and development that take place throughout life. Many developmental psychologists focus on children and adolescents, but they also may study aging and problems facing older adults.

 

Rehabilitation psychologists work with physically or developmentally disabled individuals. They help improve quality of life or help individuals adjust after a major illness or accident. They may work with physical therapists and teachers to improve health and learning outcomes.

 

School psychologists apply psychological principles and techniques to education disorders and developmental disorders. They may address student learning and behavioral problems; design and implement performance plans, and evaluate performances; and counsel students and families. They also may consult with other school-based professionals to suggest improvements to teaching, learning, and administrative strategies.

Some psychologists become postsecondary teachers or high school teachers.

 

How to Become One

Although psychologists typically need a doctoral degree in psychology, a master’s degree may be sufficient for school and industrial organizational positions. Psychologists in clinical practice need a license.

To research schools and programs in Psychology, click here.

 

Education

Most clinical, counseling, and research psychologists need a doctoral degree. Students can complete a Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. A Ph.D. in psychology is a research degree that is obtained after taking a comprehensive exam and writing a dissertation based on original research. Ph.D. programs typically include courses on statistics and experimental procedures. The Psy.D. is a clinical degree often based on practical work and examinations rather than a dissertation. In clinical, counseling, school, or health service settings, students usually complete a 1-year internship as part of the doctoral program.

School psychologists need an advanced degree and either certification or licensure to work. Common advanced degrees include education specialist degrees (Ed.S.) and doctoral degrees (Ph.D. or Psy.D.). School psychologist programs include coursework in education and psychology because their work addresses both education and mental health components of students’ development.

When working under the supervision of a doctoral psychologist, other master’s degree graduates can also work as psychological assistants in clinical, counseling, or research settings.

In most states, practicing psychology or using the title “psychologist” requires licensure. In all states and the District of Columbia, psychologists who practice independently must be licensed where they work.

Licensing laws vary by state and by type of position. Most clinical and counseling psychologists need a doctorate in psychology, an internship, and at least 1 to 2 years of supervised professional experience. They also must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Information on specific state requirements can be obtained from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. In many states, licensed psychologists must complete continuing education courses to keep their licenses.

The American Board of Professional Psychology awards specialty certification in 15 areas of psychology, such as clinical health psychology, couple and family psychology, and rehabilitation psychology. The American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology offers certification in neuropsychology. Board certification can demonstrate professional expertise in a specialty area. Certification is not required for most psychologists, but some hospitals and clinics do require certification. In those cases, candidates must have a doctoral degree in psychology, a state license or certification, and any additional criteria required by the specialty field.

Most prospective psychologists must have pre- or postdoctoral supervised experience, including an internship. Internships allow students to gain experience in an applied setting. Candidates must complete an internship before they can qualify for state licensure. The required number of hours of the internship varies by state.

 

Pay

The median annual wage for psychologists was $80,370 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $45,380, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $132,070.

Psychologists in private practice often set their own hours, and many work part time as independent consultants. They may work evenings or weekends to accommodate clients. Those employed in hospitals or other healthcare facilities also may have evening or weekend shifts. Most psychologists in clinics, government, industry, or schools work full-time schedules during regular business hours.

 

Employment Outlook

Overall employment of psychologists is projected to grow 14 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will vary by occupation.

Employment of clinical, counseling, and school psychologists is projected to grow because of greater demand for psychological services in schools, hospitals, mental health centers, and social service agencies. Demand for clinical and counseling psychologists will increase as people continue to turn to psychologists for help with their problems. Psychologists also will be needed to provide services to an aging population, helping people deal with the mental and physical changes that happen as they grow older. Psychological services will also be needed for veterans suffering from war trauma, for survivors of other trauma, and for people with developmental disorders, such as autism.

Employment of school psychologists will continue to grow because of the increased awareness of the connection between mental health and learning and because of the need for mental health services in schools. School psychologists will be needed to work with students, particularly those with special needs, learning disabilities, and behavioral issues. Schools rely on school psychologists to assess and counsel students. In addition, school psychologists will be needed to study how factors both in school and outside of school affect learning. Once aware of those factors, teachers and administrators can use them to improve education. Job opportunities may be limited, however, because employment of school psychologists in public schools and universities is contingent on state and local budgets.

Competition for jobs for psychologists will vary by specialty and level of education obtained.

Candidates with a doctoral or education specialist degree and postdoctoral work experience will have the best job opportunities in clinical, counseling, or school psychology positions.

There are expected to be better opportunities for psychologists who specialize in working with the elderly and in rehabilitation psychology.1

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Video Transcript

 Helping people succeed in school and personal life is the work of clinical, counseling, and school psychologists. Clinical psychologists help people resolve short-term personal issues or cope with severe, chronic mental illness. They start by assessing and diagnosing a person’s condition, then choose the most effective treatment to offer— whether it’s individual, family, or group psychotherapy, or a behavior modification program. Clinical psychologists may specialize in working with a certain age group, or in treating certain types of disorders. Counseling psychologists help their clients deal with issues at home, in their career, at school, or in their communities. After interviewing clients and gathering their history, a counseling psychologist works to help them understand the underlying dynamics of problems in their lives, identify coping strategies, set goals, and create an action plan to meet them. They work with families, groups, and individuals. School psychologists help students succeed in their personal development and at school. They may diagnose learning or behavior issues, and design performance plans to help students thrive. School psychologists counsel students and families, and also work with teachers and school staff to improve teaching, learning, and administrative methods. School psychologists need an advanced degree, usually the education specialist degree, and certification or licensure. Some school psychologists have a master’s or doctoral degree in school psychology. Most clinical and counseling psychologists need a doctorate in psychology, an internship, and a period of supervised professional experience. They must also pass a national exam.2

 

  1. U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook
  2. U.S. Department of Labor, Career One Stop

 

Learn More

Links and Resources for School Psychology

 

Associations

National Association of School Psychologists--The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) is a professional association representing more than 25,000 school psychologists, graduate students, and related professionals throughout the United States and an additional 25 countries worldwide. As the world's largest organization of school psychologists, NASP works to advance effective practices to improve students' learning, behavior, and mental health. Our vision is that all children and youth thrive in school, at home, and throughout life.

American Psychological Association--APA is the leading scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States, with more than 121,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students as its members.

 

Publications

Journal of School Psychology

School Psychology Review

School Psychology