State Leadership Conference

Some state psychological associations say they don't focus on school psychology issues because school psychologists aren't a significant part of their membership base. In response, school psychologists say that they don't join because state associations don't focus on their issues.

To help bridge that gap, the APA Practice Organization invited school psychologists to discuss the range of their work and explain the relevance of school psychology to state psychological association leaders at the 2008 State Leadership Conference.

School psychologists employed by school districts work with administrators and teachers to help struggling children with problems that can be tied to academic success or failure. Those in private practice often help parents work with school personnel and use their own judgment to develop a treatment approach outside of school, said Lea Theodore, PhD, a school psychologist in private practice on Long Island, N.Y.

Rachel Stroud, PhD, a school psychologist with the Columbia, S.C., public school system, explained that most people think her job revolves around testing children for learning disabilities.

That is part of her expertise, she said, but there's more to her job than most people know, including:

  • Conducting brief therapeutic interventions for specific psychological problems.

  • Consulting with professionals such as physicians outside of the school to meet a child's needs, specifically for medication issues.

  • Supervising practicum students and working with them to devise treatment approaches for students with special needs and mental health concerns.

  • Helping teachers understand the intricacies of scoring systems on state standardized tests.

"From a parent's perspective, I don't know how much more a student would get in the private sector,''Stroud said.

About two-thirds of school psychologists practicing in the nation's public schools hold master's degrees and approximately one-third have doctorates. Session attendee Tammy Hughes, PhD, a school psychologist and president of Div. 16 (School) who is on faculty at Duquesne University's school psychology program, noted that everyone who works with children in public schools is credentialed by their state's education department to do so.

However, there are specific educational and clinical training differences between the doctoral and nondoctoral programs. When there is a mix of doctoral and nondoctoral level school psychologists working in the schools, the practitioner addressing a student's mental health needs is determined by how many school psychologists a school district has and where it needs to place them, said Ron Palomares, PhD, of APA's Practice Directorate.

Given that state education boards issue certification for master's-level school psychologists, it's important that state psychological associations pay close attention to legislation affecting education within their state legislatures, Palomares said.

They should also take steps to be more connected to school psychologists. He noted that some state psychological associations have specific sections or divisions for school psychologists, some have liaisons to state school psychology associations, and others don't have formal links between school psychology and the larger discipline.

"We need to find ways to continue to collaborate," Palomares concluded.

-C. Munsey