Pediatric Therapeutic Services

What Does Working as a Certified School Psychologist Like?

School Psychology Certificates and Employment Outlook for School Psychologists

Each year, US News & World Report issues its list of the hundred best jobs in the nation. In 2020, being a certified school psychologist ranked high on the list.

It grabbed the 36th spot on the list overall. It also ranked as the 18th best STEM job and the second-best job in social services (only substance abuse and behavioral disorder counseling ranked higher.)

Many people want to know what makes a career with a degree in school psychology so attractive. To help provide the answer, Kristin Connell, a school-based psychologist with Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), shares her experience from the past two years. 

Although it may not be easy, or even quite what she imagined, Connell says she finds her work interesting, invigorating, and rewarding. She loves those moments when she can say to herself, “Good. This kid’s going to get the help he needs.”

Gathering Data, Assessing Students, and Writing Reports

As a certified school psychologist, Connell’s various “hats” include “detective and data collector and writer.”Female school psychologist displays pictures of smiling and frowning faces. Young elementary student points to smiling face.

Once school staff or parents request a student receive psychological services, the psychologist must review data about the student’s presenting issue. If the referral doesn’t include such data—and many don’t—the psychologist must gather it themselves, through interviews and direct observation.

“You have to start collecting [information] from the parents and from the teachers,” Connell says. “Even if it’s the first evaluation, you want to know a lot of the child’s background—even from birth—to start to rule things out.”

Testing follows data collection. One kind of psychological test does not fit all students.

“Some are better [than others] for different reasons,” says Connell. “At an elementary level, you might get a student that’s struggling with reading. Sometimes you might get a referral for more of an emotional or behavioral problem.” 

Additionally, Connell cites a slogan familiar to school psychologists: “Little kids, smaller problems; bigger kids, bigger problems.”

Finally, testing leads to writing reports. School-based psychologists must summarize every interview conducted, describe everything observed, and include the results of every assessment given. “It gets easier and easier, the longer you do this,” Connell allows, “but it does take a lot of time. Every student is different.”

Collaborating as Part of Student IEP Teams

As the assessment process illustrates, school psychologists work not only with students but also with school staff and students’ families. 

“From parents to administrators to teachers to the teachers’ aides, you’re interfacing with almost everyone in the school,” says Connell. “Everyone that would touch the student you can interface, connect, and collaborate with.”

Much of that collaboration centers around students’ Individualized Education Plan teams. As a key player on the IEP team, the psychologist shares and interprets their observations and evaluations of the student. They also lend their expertise to developing the student’s IEP goals and the means for meeting those goals.

Working within constraints comes with the territory. “It does sometimes come down to funding and money,” says Connell. “You need to run what kinds of programs the school can provide for the child, the principal, or one of the heads of the school.”

At the same time, Connell adds, “You want to have a good relationship with everyone on the team.” Because, according to Connell, everyone’s ideas and input can help shape more effective supports and interventions.

Educational Preparation and Employment Outlook for School Psychologists

What educational and other requirements do certified school psychologists need to have? 

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) sets these national certification standards:

  • Documented completion of one of the many NASP-accredited graduate programs. The program must be at least 60 graduate semester hours, including at least 54 hours exclusive of credit for a supervised, specialist-level internship.
  • At least 1,200 hours’ supervised experience.
  • Passing score (147 points) on the Praxis® Test.

Beyond their degrees in school psychology, practitioners must obtain a license from the state in which they intend to practice. Licensure requirements vary from state to state.

Clinicians entering school psychology will be in demand for some time. An ongoing school psychologist shortage means schools and districts will be eager for qualified and quality practitioners. 

School closures during the COVID-19 pandemic will only make demand more urgent.

“Some kids might really feel a lot going through everything that’s happening,” notes Connell. “I think some kids will have a hard time transitioning back. More introverted kids might [love] attending virtual school. They don’t have to deal with their peers. They can be behind a screen and that works for them. Now, they’re going to have to come back to school and there will be a certain level of anxiety.”

If you’re a certified school psychologist, or soon will be, consider practicing in this time of high demand as an Independent Contractor. It might be an ideal fit for your professional and personal goals, allowing you to serve more students’ mental health needs while also enjoying your career and your life on your terms.

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