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How to Become a School Psychologist in 2021

October 4, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Psychology is one of the essential professional fields in medicine. It has many career paths that you can choose from; however, all the careers involve technical training. You must fulfill certain minimum academic requirements to become a psychologist. After training, you become a psychiatrist. The role of a psychiatrist is to analyze the mental health of patients and prescribe medication for mental illness. Unlike other careers in medicine, psychology deals with assessing the mind and how it affects other parts of the body. Some career paths you can choose include clinical psychology, forensic psychology, and school psychology.

Psychology is one of the few fields that allows you to practice with a passion in other careers. You don’t have to be a clinical psychologist. One of such career paths is school psych. This branch of psychology involves dealing with individuals in. As a school psychologist, you practice at various levels depending on your expertise. All academic institutions require the services of a school psychologist for better results. For instance, preparatory schools need assistance keeping the mental state of students and staff in check. With the appropriate licensure, you could be employed to work as a school counselor for high school and tertiary institutions as well. Advancing your studies to a master’s degree allows you to practice at an even higher position. For an in-depth understanding of school psychology as a career, we explore the following:

  1. What a school psychologist does
  2. Skills and qualities that a school psychologist should have
  3. Educational requirements to become a school psychologist
  4. Best school psychology programs

What A School Psychologist Does

Before you start a career in school psychology, you should know what is expected of you during practice. Prior knowledge of your duties prepares you mentally for work as a professional. It also helps you decide on specializations to major in for further studies. As a school psychologist, you must perform various roles in your career life. These roles and duties vary depending on many factors. Some common aspects that determine your duties as a school psychologist include:

  • Educational Level

Your level of education is one of the main factors that determine your duties as a school psychologist. School psychology can be studied and practiced at various levels. For instance, attending a school psychology trade school means you will work as an assistant or a school psychology nurse. Your roles, in this case, will be limited since you don’t have the skills and knowledge to handle complex psychiatric cases. Having a doctoral degree in school psychology means you practice at a higher level. You could be the lead school psychologist in the institution you work for which has several school psychologists. With the skills and knowledge acquired in higher degree programs, you can be part of the school management board. Your role will be contributing to the policymaking process to ensure the institution’s management doesn’t affect the mental health of staff and students. Most school psychologists’ duties require technical skills; thus, most employers require a minimum qualification of a bachelor’s degree.

  • The Institution You Work For

Employers are the main factors determining work to be done in almost every industry. Although the government regulates some duties, you might have to perform additional roles, as required by your employer. School psychology is one of the careers where people’s roles at the same level of qualification could vary. Depending on the institution, you might practice more or fewer duties than other school psychologists. The main reason for variations in duties is the difference in psychiatric needs by individuals in academic institutions. While some schools focus on improving performance, others could focus on correcting the behavior of students and the staff. Students and staff in public schools experience more complex psychological problems than those in private schools. In most public schools, students need counseling from the environment in which they grow. On the other hand, students in private schools could only need the motivation to better their grades.

There are many more factors that could determine your job description as a school psychologist. In most cases, you might have to have the additional skills to suit your position perfectly. Although school psychologists’ duties vary, some are common across all institutions. Such duties include:

  • Counseling– Most psychiatric problems don’t have specific medication or treatment procedures. As a school psychologist, you will be handling students and staff with family or self-esteem issues. Although they might seem mild, psychological issues like this affect the students’ social lives, leading to a decline in general performance. When left unattended, such individuals get detached and develop a negative attitude towards the school system. Since there is no medical cure for these things, the affected persons need counseling and guidance for a positive look at life. As a school psychologist, you must have good counseling skills to ensure the affected are back on track.
  • Monitoring progress– Mental problems are gradual and not easy to detect. Some people could even be suffering from mental issues and not know about them. As a school psychologist, one of your roles is to monitor the progress of those under your care, allowing you to detect when their performance is going down or improving. In most cases, a decline in performance is caused by mental complications. Detecting these things early enough makes it easier to handle them. After treatment, some mental health patients could relapse to their initial or even worse state. A school psychologist must follow up on patients for a full recovery.
  • Advising management– School psychologists know what is likely to happen in an academic institution based on the mental state of the students and staff. Therefore, they advise school management boards on policy formulation and implementation. Some policies could induce stress on students and staff; consequently, the institution’s performance might decline. A school psychologist must ensure the created policies do not impact the mental health of the concerned persons. They could also counsel the students and staff on better ways of coping with the policies set.

Skills and Qualities That A School Psychologist Should Have

To perform the duties of a school psychologist, you need various skills. These skills determine how fast you rise through the ranks as a professional. While some of these skills are taught in school, some are learned through work experience. This implies that you have become a more seasoned school therapist with growing work experience. Some of the essential skills and qualities you need as a school psychologist include the following:

  • Cognitive Skills

As mentioned earlier, psychological problems are gradual and hard to notice. As a school psychologist, you need to have sharp cognitive skills to detect when a student is suffering from mental complications. School children cannot tell whether they are mentally depressed. A school psychologist has to recognize that they could be undergoing a mental problem and help them. Cognitive skills are essential when monitoring the progress of a patient. As a school psychologist, you should tell whether your patient is positively responding to therapy or not. This helps you determine whether they need an alternative treatment.

  • Communication Skills

One of the forms of treatment for psychiatric problems is counseling. Counseling involves listening to a patient’s problems and providing solutions to help them cope. To achieve this, you must have proper communication skills. Misunderstanding between a school psychologist and the patients could lead to a misdiagnosis. The mental health of the patient could deteriorate if you are treating the wrong problem. Additionally, a school psychologist should report their findings on the mental state of students and staff to the school management. Therefore, you need good communication skills to avoid misinforming the management as it directly affects policy formulation.

  • Problem-Solving Skills

School psychologists face many problems. The students and staff you handle in an academic institution come from different households. This implies that the psychological problems they might be suffering from are diverse. Therefore, you need good problem-solving skills to provide solutions to their problems. Additionally, dismal performance by students and staff could be a result of various mental health complications. In such cases, the school management might require you to find a fast and lasting solution to bring the performance back on track. The ability to come up with and implement solutions makes you valuable to the institution you work for.

  • Analytical Skills

Psychological problems are hard to detect. They are manifested through behavioral changes and could take long before one realizes they are affected. As a school psychologist, analytical skills will help you detect psychological problems from the general behavior of those under your care. In therapy sessions, most people do not express directly what they suffer from. However, they exhibit certain symptoms that could be related to mental complications. Your analytical skills are essential in assessing the symptoms and making viable conclusions. You should analyze administrative policies made by management to give them sound advice and advisement. This allows the management to formulate policies that positively impact the mental health of students and staff.

  • Technology Skills

Thanks to technological developments, the delivery of school psychology services has greatly improved. However, it comes with the need for school psychologists to develop the skills needed to facilitate the integration of technology in the industry. For instance, medical record-keeping has been taken online for security and easy access. You need computer programming skills to develop programs that monitor the treatment and progress of patients under your care. Additionally, many psychological problems among school-going children are technology-related. To provide viable solutions, you need the knowledge and skills in technology.

Educational Requirements to Become A School Psychologist

Like other careers, school psychology requires you to have certain minimum academic qualifications. These qualifications determine the level at which you practice in your career life. However, you are not restricted to performing at one level of the profession for your entire life. Advancing your education helps you rise to higher levels. There are various academic qualifications you can practice with. Therefore, you should consult a career guidance counselor to know which level is best for you. Your performance in high school determines your career entry-level as a school psychologist. Performing well means you could enroll in higher training programs, at the end of which you get employed at a related level. Some of the common educational requirements for a school psychologist include:

  • Associate Degree

An associate degree is the minimum allowable academic qualification for one to practice in the school psychology profession. This degree is acquired from accredited trade institutions. The duration and cost of an associate degree depend on a wide range of factors. However, the main ones are the institution you enroll in and the mode of learning you choose. In most cases, part-time studies could take longer. With an associate degree, you will not be licensed to practice as an independent school psychologist. Associate degree holders practice under licensed psychologists in an institution. This implies that your entry career level could be a school psychologist assistant.

  • Bachelor’s Degree

Most licensed school psychologists are bachelor’s degree holders. Most employers require you to have at least a bachelor’s degree to be absorbed. Equally, licensing bodies require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to certify you for practice as an independent school psychologist. You can get a bachelor’s degree from recognized universities or psychology colleges. Although it is not the minimum academic level, you can join a bachelor’s degree program straight from high school. This is possible if you score above the minimum required grades in relevant subjects. If you have an associate degree, your high school grades could be ignored. However, some institutions might demand high school results together with the associate degree. Like in associate degrees, the duration of a bachelor’s degree program is not standard.

  • Master’s Degree

This is an advanced educational level in school psychology. Masters’ degree programs equip you with more technical and administrative skills. Therefore, most people entering this level of study are preparing for higher positions in their careers. Master’s degrees are obtained from recognized universities. They involve the preparation and presentation of research for grading and approval by the institution. Pursuing a master’s degree means you specialize in a specific area of practice in school psychology. There are several specializations within this field that you can choose from for your master’s degree. The common ones are special education assessment and preventive and responsive studies. The requirement for a master’s degree program is a bachelor’s degree in school psychology or a related course. Some schools might require a recommendation from your previous school or employer.

  • Doctorate Degree

This is the highest educational level in school psychology. Although it is one of the most desired, many school psychologists don’t get to this level. In most cases, doctorate holders don’t practice in academic institutions. With this level of education, you can work with the government to formulate governing policies for school psychologists. Additionally, you can work as an independent consultant for individual psychologists and companies. Doctorate requirements vary depending on the institution you enroll in. Some institutions require you to provide a master’s degree in a related course. Others require recommendations from your supervisors or other relevant persons that can comment on your academics.

With the above educational qualifications, you can practice as a school psychologist in almost all states. However, you need to keep your skill updated to remain relevant in the industry. You can achieve this by enrolling in short professional courses and workshops organized by various organizations. Computer skills will put you in a better position to be retained as a psychologist in any institution. The reason for this is the transition of school psychology services to incorporate technology such as the digitization of medical records.

Although you might have all the above academic credentials, you cannon practice unless you are a licensed psychologist. To be a licensed educational psychologist, you must undergo necessary professional tests to prove your ability to deliver the expected quality of service. The licensing board for school psychologists is the National Association of School Psychologists, NASP. Irrespective of your specialization, you must meet the NASP requirements to practice in any state within the U.S. There are several requirements to be licensed as a school psychologist. One of them is a bachelor’s degree with a minimum of 1200 hours of supervised internship.

If you intend to practice as a consultant, you might be required to produce a record of your previous work experience. Alternatively, you could be asked to provide proof of the research you carried out in your doctoral degree program. Other than NASP, you might need State board psychology certifications. These certifications vary depending on the state in which you wish to operate. It implies that being a registered school psychologist in one state doesn’t mean you can practice in a different one. The variations in state board certification requirements depend on the psychology needs of academic institutions.

Best School Psychology Programs

Once you decide to pursue a career in school psychology, one of the hardest tasks is choosing a program to enroll in. Various school psychology programs are depending on the level you wish to practice at. The choice of a program determines how long it will take for you to complete your studies and start practicing. For instance, a master’s degree program takes up to two years but could take longer in some institutions. Additionally, it determines how fast you will be employed or rise through ranks in your career. Several factors determine the suitability of a school psychology program. While these factors could be marginal in some states, they are essential in others. Some of the common aspects to look at when selecting a psychology degree program include:

  • Marketability of The Program

One of the main reasons for pursuing a career is financial gain. There are several branches of school psychology you can major in. Although the basic training is standard in most of them, detailed specializations could be different. The marketability of these programs varies depending on the demand. For instance, a special needs assessment is more marketable than others due to the nature of the work involved. Very few people enter into this path leaving many employment opportunities. Early employment after completing your school psychology program guarantees maximum returns on investment.

  • Duration of The Program

How long you want to stay in school should guide you to a school psychology program to enroll in. There are various programs with varied time lengths depending on your specialization. If you want to be employed faster, you could choose a program that runs over a short period. Institutions offer various options to students at different levels of study. For instance, you can choose to study part-time or full-time. With part-time studies, you are likely to take longer in school since your classes are at your convenience. You do not have to learn every day. Full-time studies take shorter periods since students focus on studying all day. Such programs cover a lot within a shorter period

  • Cost of The Program

Financial considerations are essential when enrolling in a school psychology program. The amount of money you spend at school should not exceed how much you will make through your career. One of the main financial aspects of school psychology degree programs is tuition fees. Some institutions charge higher tuition fees than others. You should look for student financial aid programs if you secure admission to institutions that charge high tuition fees. The cost of studying involves other expenses such as commuting and rent, and food bills. In most cases, the living costs of the city where your institution is determines these costs. Knowing the city you move in for studies helps you prepare well for expenses. Alternatively, you can choose inexpensive modes of learning, such as online classes. With these, you eliminate the costs of commuting and living in expensive cities.

  • Quality of Training Offered

School psychology training institutions are equipped differently across the country. Some institutions are more equipped than others in terms of facilities and teaching staff. If the program you select is available in an institution, they should also have adequate reading material and tutors. The quality of training you receive determines how fast you will be employed. Reputable institutions are a sure way of being absorbed into the job industry. Some institutions organize internship programs for their students in different companies. Such internships sharpen your skills and place you in a better position to secure employment. If you enroll in an online program, your institution of choice should have adequate reading material. These could be online libraries or physical libraries located in different cities.

There are many institutions around the world with online degree programs. Although most are genuine, others offer substandard training and could make it hard for you to secure employment after studying. Whether you enroll in a graduate study or an undergraduate program, you must check for the school’s authenticity. Information about accredited US-based online school psychology programs is available on the NASP online platforms. You might need further studies after graduating from US-based schools to practice at an international level. The examination policies for online institutions vary. Some institutions administer exams through their online platforms, while others require physical presence for exams. This is one of the main reasons to consult and read thoroughly about a program before enrolling in.

In Summary

School psychology is one of the best career paths in the field of psychology. It cuts across various fields but mainly focuses on psychological needs within a learning environment and child development. It is the best way to practice psychology while maintaining your passion for education. There are several sub-branches under school psychology that you can major in. The educational psychology degree you specialize in determines your employability and work environment for the rest of your career. Advancing your education increases your chances of being employed. However, you need to have a license to operate as an independent school psychologist.

As a school psychologist, you have various duties to ensure the mental health of students and staff is okay. To facilitate your practice, you need a certain set of skills. They determine how well you work and rise in your career as a professional. One of the necessary skills you need is proper communication since most of your duties will involve engaging with people. You will learn some skills during your training program. Others will develop as you gain work experience that you won’t learn in an educational psychology program. Your duties as a psychologist mainly depend on your employer. Employers could subject you to environments with different mental health needs in the school setting, including educational specialist, general school counseling, or school administrator, though some of these roles require a master’s degree. This implies that you have to adapt to provide needed solutions as a nationally certified school psychologist. 

Some school psychology programs could be very expensive. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t pursue them. Applying for and getting financial aid will help you offset some of the expenses. Alternatively, you can enroll in online programs that are cheaper and convenient if you have other commitments.

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