Understanding the work of school psychologists

Posted 11/18/18

To The Editor:It is hard to follow the news in any form without hearing about mental health.  The phrase “mental health” is included in stories from prisoner treatment to exercise to mass …

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Understanding the work of school psychologists


To The Editor:

It is hard to follow the news in any form without hearing about mental health.  The phrase “mental health” is included in stories from prisoner treatment to exercise to mass shootings. 

Yet, while mental health is an important and often talked about topic, many people trained in the field are not working in it. The American Psychological Association estimates that about 57 percent of people who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology immediately enter the workforce, and not always in a related job. 

If mental health is such an important part of our news and culture, why aren’t more people with a psychology degree working in their field? Part of this discrepancy stems from a lack of awareness of the different careers for which a psychology degree can prepare a person. 

Most people are familiar with the traditional role of a clinical or counseling psychologist, which provide diagnostic services and counseling. 

One of the lesser-known careers in this field is school psychology. School psychologists work in every public school in the United States, and provide important contributions to schools’ culture and climate.

An important distinction to make is that school psychologists have a different role than school counselors. School psychologists are uniquely trained to support students with and without disabilities, and provide a wide range of services in addition to counseling. The National Association of School Psychologists provides the following statement about school psychologists’ roles. 

“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.” 

Most school psychologists in the state of Tennessee spend the majority of their time evaluating students to determine eligibility for special education services.  In addition, school psychologists provide academic and behavioral consultation to parents, teachers and school administration. 

However, school psychologists are trained to do so much more, including crisis response, counseling, social skills training, preventative academic and behavioral interventions and working with diverse families. To provide the highest level of professional services, NASP recommends a school psychologist ratio of 1 to 500-700 students. The state of Tennessee averages 1 to 1,600 students, with some school psychologists serving as many as 4,000 students. 

School psychologists have the knowledge and skill sets to support students and schools in developing caring communities that foster resilience. The current ratio for school psychologists does not allow for adequate provision of services.  The lack of licensed school psychologists also affects the number of students being served by each school psychologist. Students could be positively impacted by more bachelor’s level psychologists pursuing a school psychology degree. 

We have just completed National School Psychology Awareness Week. Please help school psychologists across Tennessee raise awareness about the important work being done in schools.  Help raise awareness about this career to people looking to further their education in a mental health field.  Share the importance of mental health supports in schools with your legislator. 

Finally, if and when, you meet a school psychologist, please thank them for the hard work they do every day to support students. 

— Sarah McMillan


Tennessee Association of School Psychologists 


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