Are you thinking about a career change but aren’t quite sure if it’s right for you? Or maybe you’re trying to decide just what you want to study when you head off to college. Well, in either case, you may find yourself exploring different careers within the field of psychology. And one of those is likely the school psychologist.
So, what does a school psychologist do? How are they actually going to work with students, and what can they do to ensure that students are getting the help they need? Well, there are actually a lot of roles and functions of school psychologists, but a lot of people don’t really recognize all of those responsibilities.
What Exactly Does a School Psychologist Do?
The first thing that a school psychologist does is take care of the students’ mental health in their care. This might seem obvious, but it’s essential, and it’s the reason that this individual is there. Even for what may seem like minor difficulties or experiences, it’s vital that the psychologist be available for the student when needed.
A school psychologist talks with the students that are under their care to find out more about their mental health and how they are doing within the school environment and even outside of that environment. That’s because these psychologists are there to help with the entirety of the student’s needs, not just their school experience.
These psychologists could be employed in schools with older children and adolescents or work in elementary schools with small children. The truth is, there is no age where a child needs or doesn’t need the availability of mental health support.
What are the Roles and Functions of School Psychologists?
The overall roles and functions of the school psychologist are actually quite varied. These individuals have a lot of different responsibilities to the students in their care, but the overall role is to provide the support that their students need.
This might mean working with students who are being bullied in school or even those who are being bullied or abused at home. It might also include students who are struggling academically or those who are suffering from different types of disabilities or mental health conditions. Students can go to the school psychologist when they are experiencing difficulties that are ‘one-off’ or when they experience recurring challenges.
For example, a student who gets into a fight with another student may see a school psychologist as part of the process of discovering what happened or why. They may or may not need to see that psychologist again, but even that single appointment could make a difference for them.
However, a student who is struggling with ongoing bullying may see the school psychologist multiple times and may have frequent or even consistent appointments with them. The school psychologist will make time for different students who have different needs and provide support and encouragement, and advice where necessary for the student and those in the administration responsible for providing that student with a safe and healthy learning environment.
A school psychologist may also work with other investigative services and agencies if there are potential problems at home that need to be looked into. They can help get a better insight into the mental wellbeing of the child and the circumstances that they are experiencing overall.
What Can a School Psychologist Diagnose?
A school psychologist is able to diagnose just about any mental health disorder, which is essential as many students may be in the earlier stages of mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorder. It’s also possible that a school psychologist could help with diagnosing severe conditions like autism in students.
By recognizing the signs and symptoms early, a school psychologist can help with the process of treatment and can be instrumental in assisting the students in getting the help they need. In most cases, however, these individuals are not as involved in the diagnosis of mental health conditions and are instead involved in treatment or, more frequently, in general, school-related needs for the student.
It’s important to note that while school psychologists can and do make a significant impact in the lives of their students, they are often doing so from the point of view of helping them with school-related issues rather than mental health diagnoses.
What Kind of Testing Does a School Psychologist Do?
School psychologists can and do use many of the same diagnostic tests that you’ll find with other types of psychology. Again, this is because these professionals are very much like the psychologists you’ll find outside of the school environment in training and background.
School psychologists can use standardized cognitive tests that will evaluate behavior, social and emotional functioning, adaptive functioning, personality, and more. Each of these tests can help them to understand the students better that they are working with and to provide the right level of help and support for each student, no matter what reasoning they have for visiting with the psychologist in the first place.
These types of tests vary from one psychologist to the next as each might use slightly different versions. It’s also important to note that while many aspects of these tests are quite conclusive, much of the test is also subjective, which means that the end result will be up to the interpretation of the psychologist.
What’s the Difference Between a School Psychologist and School Counselor?
Often when you hear about the mental health support that is available at schools, you will hear the individual referred to as a ‘school counselor.’ While this is often used as an umbrella term for whoever is responsible for the student’s mental health while in school, there is actually a definitive difference between the two positions.
A school psychologist is someone who works directly with behavioral symptoms and academic problems that the student may be having. They have advanced degrees as well as licensure from the state. They may help students with assessments and testing to diagnose mental health conditions, mental health intervention, special education, crisis response, risk factors, academic interventions, and more.
The school psychologist is a more specialized position that will work with students in a slightly more dedicated way if they are having genuine difficulties or problems within our outside of the school environment.
On the other hand, a school counselor is someone who works primarily with more mild situations and experiences that the child may be going through. They are still required to have an advanced degree and licensure from the state but in different programs. From there, they help students with growth and development, career development, social and cultural awareness, individual and group counseling, and other areas related to their needs within the school environment.
The school counselor is a slightly more generalized position that will work with students on their needs and concerns as it relates to the school environment and more general situations outside of the school environment.
Both of these professions are extremely important, and both have unique roles within the school environment. Also, you may hear the mental health professional within the school referred to interchangeably by these two terms. One professional may overlap on the type of assistance they provide within the school.
Suppose a school is only able to provide one mental health professional (or one type of mental health professional), In that case, that individual may be responsible for all of the above services, whether they are considered a psychologist or a counselor, according to their credentials. You may want to speak with the school specifically about the responsibilities of the position.
What Skills are Needed to Be a School Psychologist?
The skills needed to become a school psychologist are actually quite varied, and they are numerous as well. You want to make sure that you are truly prepared for what it’s going to take to get into this profession and definitely what it will take to continue on and provide the level of support that your students need once you are in the profession as well.
One of the most important things that you need to know as a psychologist is how to communicate with your students. You need to be able to not only talk to them in a way that they understand and listen to but also to listen to them in a way that helps you understand them and what their overall needs are. That’s the only way you’ll be able to provide them the support and assistance they need.
Working within a school environment does not mean that you won’t need to do research. No two students are exactly alike, and no two situations are exactly alike. While these students are coming to you for help and support, that doesn’t mean that you’re expected to know everything at every moment. Being able to do research to understand the situation better and the student is essential.
This is another critical aspect of being a school psychologist. Students will be telling you things that are hard for them. They will be sharing experiences and thoughts that are difficult for them to express or that they have never shared with anyone else. Ethics ensures that you do not talk with others about what those students tell you (unless required by law or for the safety of the child or others), and also that you do not use your position of power over the student in a negative way.
You will be the problem solver for many of the students that you interact with. Even though much of psychology is about helping your patient come to the understanding of what they need on their own, these students will look to you for a great deal of help in that regard. That means it’s up to you to be a problem-solver and be able to make recommendations for the student related to their situation.
When working with others, it’s always a good idea to have a great deal of patience, and this is even more important when it comes to students. After all, they may struggle with what to say to you when they first come see you, or they may not want to open up about what they’re experiencing. In these cases, it’s going to be up to you to be patient until they are ready to talk.
Being able to empathize with your patients is another essential skill, but keep in mind that you still need to keep set boundaries in this as well. It’s okay to empathize with your patient about what they’re experiencing and even how they are reacting to it, but you will need to be able to understand the pitfalls of adverse reactions that they may be having or to recommend new methods of treatment and moving forward.
Desire to Learn
As a school psychologist, or any type of psychologist, you’re always going to be learning something new. It’s not just about learning from your patients (though that will happen as well) but also continuing your education in a more formal way. You need to be willing and able to continue pushing yourself to learn more and to always look for the latest information available.
You will have to work with students in your profession, which means you need to be able to communicate and get along with these individuals. But you’ll also need to work with other staff within the school environment and potentially even those outside of the school environment. Being able to do so in a healthy and positive way will help everyone involved and make sure that your patients are getting the help they need.
You will only have so much time in the day to get in everything that you and your patients actually need. Make sure you can manage your time effectively when it comes to working with the students and when it comes to the other activities or tasks that you might need to do throughout the day.
Wrapping Things Up: What Does a School Psychologist Do?
A school psychologist has a great deal of responsibility, and they are definitely going to ‘do’ a lot. They are going to help students with their academic lives, their personal lives, and so much more. And whether you’re actually a school psychologist or a school counselor, you’re going to have a great deal of impact on their future.