If you make the commendable decision to become a school psychologist, you'll be entering a profession whose members practice educational psychology (the study of how teachers teach and how kids learn) to help students resolve personal and educational difficulties. School psychologists also employ clinical psychology, where the scientific study of the mind is used to help students resolve psychological problems. School psychologists help kids by talking to them and, most importantly, listening to their responses.
As a school psychologist, you'll be assisting students who are striving to improve their mental health and become productive citizens. You'll speak not only with the students but with their parents and teachers as well to gain insight into the nature of students' psychological dysfunction, if any, as well as proper courses of treatment.
You'll also be measuring and assessing students' learning abilities through the use of intelligence tests such as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Quotient Test, the Universal Nonverbal Intelligence Test, and the Woodcock-Johnson 3 Test, among others.
Students with learning disabilities or physical handicaps will also come within your purview, because these children may require special guidance and assistance as they make their way through the educational system. Disabled students were given the legal right to a free, appropriate public education, along with every other kid in America, when the United States Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1975.
Under the IDEA, disabled children may attend school in the “least restrictive environment” that meets their educational needs; in other words, in a normal, mainstream classroom. As a school psychologist, you'll help these kids gain the maximum benefit from your school's educational programs.
To become a school psychologist, you don't necessarily have to attain a doctorate, although many school psychologists do spend upward of seven years in graduate school earning their Educational Doctor degrees, Doctor of Philosophy degrees, or Doctor of Psychology degrees.
All prospective school psychologists must become familiar with the work of Lightner Witmer, a psychologist who, in 1896, established a children's clinic in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — the first one devoted to the practical application of psychology. Witmer also started a boarding school for troubled students in 1908 and is regarded as a founder of the discipline of school psychology.
Instead, you can begin working as a school psychologist by gaining acceptance to a university's college of education and spending upward of four years earning your Master of Science degree, Master of Education degree, Master of Arts degree, or Educational Specialist degree.
You'll also need to take additional courses and pass your state's exam in order to earn your School Psychology Credential (the certificate's exact title varies from state to state) — that is, your state license granting you permission to practice psychology. Clear these professional hurdles and you'll become a highly trained, highly qualified, state-licensed school psychologist, ready to help children of all ages overcome their personal difficulties and enjoy unparalleled educational success.