If you are the type of person that children feel free to talk to and open up to about their problems, you may have the makings of a school psychologist. These professionals work with students, families, teachers, and sometimes outside community support providers to help students deal with learning difficulties, stressful family situations, or behavior problems.
Psychologists who work in school settings are different in several ways from school counselors. Both counselors and psychologists in schools may provide mental health counseling, drug dependency prevention, and intervention techniques and help with family and academic problems. However, counselors typically deal with the entire student body on academic matters such as course selection, career planning, and problems with class scheduling. Psychologists usually focus more on students who have learning disabilities or who are at risk for failure in the academic system. They are specially trained in child psychology, special education, and the educational system and are able to connect how mental health issues can affect learning and behavior in school.
There are also differences in the educational levels of school counselors and psychologists. According to the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), school counselors generally go through two years of graduate-level study in counseling (which usually does not include training in special education) along with a six-hundred-hour supervised internship. Psychologists, on the other hand, are usually required by most states to have three years of graduate school training and twelve hundred hours of internship.
According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), most states usually require that the following conditions be met in order to practice as a school psychologist:
- Bachelor’s Degree. Completion of a bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite of enrolling in a graduate school program. Your bachelor’s degree does not necessarily have to be in psychology, as long as you have enough background knowledge of areas that will be helpful in the practice of school psychology. You must also complete any undergraduate courses that are required by the graduate program you have chosen.
- Graduate-Level Degree in School Psychology. You must next earn a master’s, a specialist, or a doctoral degree in school psychology from a graduate school program. Although a few states may have different requirements, the NASP recommends that school psychologists have at least a specialist-level graduate degree. This requires a minimum of three years of full-time graduate study (at least sixty graduate semester hours), which includes a year-long supervised internship of twelve hundred hours, six hundred hours of which must be in a school setting.
- State Certification/Licensure. Finally, you must become certified or licensed in the state in which you work. All fifty states and the District of Columbia require school psychologists to be licensed or certified. Although licensing or certification requirements can vary according to each state, most of them require that you hold a graduate degree, go through an internship, and have one to two years of professional experience. All states also require that you pass a standardized assessment exam, which may include additional oral or essay questions. Some states also require continuing education in order to renew your school psychologist license.
Many school psychologists also choose to go on and obtain national certification from the NASP or specialist certification in certain areas from the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).