This week the National Association of School Psychologists  invites states around the country to proclaim it School Psychology Awareness Week.

Being that I am a school psychologist I thought I would share a little bit about what I do on any given day as our profession seems to be a mystery to many people.  Shortly after the Sandy Hook tragedy last year my stepfather sent me a long email about his concerns for the welfare of children in our schools; specifically he asked lots of questions about how best to address mental health needs.  He shared that he thought it would be best if all schools had someone on the staff that was trained to deal with mental health issues as they affect students.  I called him laughing and explaining “That’s my job.”  He’d never actually taken the time to think about what I do.

There are lots of stereotypes about what a school psychologist does.  Often at social functions the conversation goes like this:

Random person: “What do you do?”

Me: “I’m a school psychologist?”

Random person: “So, are you going to analyze me?” OR “Does that mean I should be careful about what I say?” OR “Can I talk to you about my son/daughter/pet chinchilla’s problem?”  OR (and this one’s my favorite) “My school never had a school psychologist.”

I usually respond by joking that I can’t analyze them because they’re not a child and we’re not in a school and then spend some time clearly up the misconceptions; including the fact that just because they didn’t see the school psychologist doesn’t mean there wasn’t one there.  I will offer advice about their child’s problem, but often refer them to their own school.

Here is a brief summary about the role of a school psychologist from the NASP website:

School psychologists help children and youth succeed academically, socially, behaviorally, and emotionally. They collaborate with educators, parents, and other professionals to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments that strengthen connections between home, school, and the community for all students.

School psychologists are highly trained in both psychology and education, completing a minimum of a specialist-level degree program (at least 60 graduate semester hours) that includes a year-long supervised internship. This training emphasizes preparation in mental health and educational interventions, child development, learning, behavior, motivation, curriculum and instruction, assessment, consultation, collaboration, school law, and systems. School psychologists must be certified and/or licensed by the state in which they work. They also may be nationally certified by the National School Psychology Certification Board (NSPCB). The National Association of School Psychologists sets ethical and training standards for practice and service delivery.

The three key components of my job are consultation, intervention, and evaluation.  Consultation involves working with parents and professionals both at school and in the community to support student needs.  Intervention for students with mental health, social, emotional, or behavioral needs in school through counseling (both individuals and groups) or in-class support is another crucial aspect of my job.  Lastly, I am responsible for evaluation of students suspected of having difficulties that negatively impact their school performance (academic, social/emotional, behavioral).

I am fortunate to work in a school district that has at least one psychologist in full-time in every building.  That is not the case in all districts and some towns have itinerant psychologists that travel between several buildings.  If you aren’t sure who your child’s school psychologist is you can check the school’s website for more information or just call the school and ask.

I thought I’d offer some tips to moms about how you can work with your school psychologist if the need arises:

  • Take the time to introduce yourself to your child’s school psychologist.  If a crisis arises, you want to know who that person is BEFORE you are relying on them.
  • Call the psychologist if there has been a major life change in your family.  Recent separation, death of a family member or pet, major illness of a relative.  Often times these changes affect students in school and knowing about it before your child comes to school will be helpful.
  • Contact the school psychologist if you have concerns about your child’s learning ability, attention, or social/emotional functioning.  We can gather more information and determine the most appropriate next steps for addressing your concerns.
  • Overall, remember that the school psychologist is there to help and is eager to do so.  If you have a question about school and don’t know who to ask, feel free to ask the psychologist.

I hope you’ve learned a little about my job that you might not have known before.  I thought it might be fun to do a follow-up post and answer some school related questions you might have.  If you have general school psychology related questions you’d like answered feel free to leave them in the comments below and I will answer them in a future “Ask the School Psychologist” post.

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