School psychologists are uniquely qualified members of school teams that support students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach. They apply expertise in mental health, learning, and behavior, to help children and youth succeed academically, socially, behaviorally, and emotionally. School psychologists partner with families, teachers, school administrators, and other professionals to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments that strengthen connections between home, school, and the community.
The vast majority of school psychologists work in K-12 public schools. They also provide services in a variety of other settings, including:
- Private schools
- School district administration offices
- School-based health and mental health centers
- Community-based day treatment or residential clinics and hospitals
- Juvenile justice programs
- Independent private practice
School psychologists provide direct support and interventions to students, consult with teachers, families, and other school-employed mental health professionals (i.e., school counselors, school social workers) to improve support strategies, work with school administrators to improve school-wide practices and policies, and collaborate with community providers to coordinate needed services.
They help schools successfully:
- Improve Academic Achievement
- Promote Positive Behavior and Mental Health
- Support Diverse Learners
- Create Safe, Positive School Climates
- Strengthen Family-School Partnerships
- Improve School-Wide Assessment and Accountability Monitor individual student progress in academics and behavior
- Monitor individual student progress
All children and youth can face problems from time to time related to learning; social relationships; making difficult decisions; or managing emotions such as feeling depressed, anxious, worried, or isolated. School psychologists help students, families, educators, and members of the community understand and resolve both long-term, chronic problems and short-term issues that students may face. They are a highly skilled and ready resource in the effort to ensure that all children and youth thrive in school, at home, and in life.
Every school has access to the services of a school psychologist, although some school psychologists serve two or more schools so may not be at a particular school every day. Most often, school psychologists can be reached by inquiring at the school directly, the district’s central office, or locating contact information on the school or district website.
School psychologists receive specialized advanced graduate preparation that includes coursework and practical experiences relevant to both psychology and education. School psychologists typically complete either a specialist-level degree program (at least 60 graduate semester hours) or a doctoral degree (at least 90 graduate semester hours), both of which include a year-long 1200 hour supervised internship (Overview of Differences Among Degrees in School Psychology). Graduate preparation develops knowledge and skills in:
- Data collection and analysis
- Progress monitoring
- School-wide practices to promote learning
- Resilience and risk factors
- Consultation and collaboration
- Academic/learning interventions
- Mental health interventions
- Behavioral interventions
- Instructional support
- Prevention and intervention services
- Special education services
- Crisis preparedness, response, and recovery
- Family-school-community collaboration
- Diversity in development and learning
- Research and program evaluation
- Professional ethics, school law, and systems
School psychologists typically complete either a specialist level degree program (at least 60 graduate semester hours and usually three years) or a doctoral degree (at least 90 graduate semester hours and often five to six years). Both degrees culminate in a year-long 1,200- to 1,500-hour supervised internship. The specialist-level degree is the national standard for entry into the field and allows for comprehensive practice and career advancement in schools. A doctoral degree is also appropriate for practicing in schools and is essential to working in academia and pursuing certain research interests. Some universities offer both degrees, allowing students in the specialist-level program to transfer to the doctoral program within the first two years of coursework.
School psychologists must be credentialed by the state in which they work. They also may be nationally certified by the National School Psychology Certification Board (NSPCB). The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) sets standards for graduate preparation, credentialing, professional practice and ethics. The NASP Practice Model (2010) outlines the comprehensive services that school psychologists are encouraged to provide.
Be sure to check credentialing requirements for the states where you want to work, and use NASP’s resource for state credentialing information.
NASP also maintains the NCSP credential. The majority of states now recognize the NCSP as partially or fully meeting state credentialing requirements.
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) sets standards for graduate preparation, credentialing, professional practice, and ethics. NASP approves both specialist-level and doctoral programs that meet its graduate preparation standards. Graduates of NASP-approved programs receive quality preparation across all domains of practice and can have a streamlined process for applying for the Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential.