School Psychologist Research Paper Starter

School Psychologist

(Research Starters)

School psychologists render a breadth of psychological services and fulfill a variety of roles and functions to schools and school districts. School psychologists provide psychological services-interventions, consultations and assessments-to teachers, administrators, students and parents. The history of school psychology in the U. S. can be traced to the late 19th century and the contributions of such psychologists as G. S. Hall and Lightmer Witmer. Psychological theory plays an essential role in the development and evaluation of school-based interventions. The practice of school psychology emphasizes prevention, early intervention, consultation, assessment, counseling, collaboration and problem-solving. There exists considerable disparity between the actual and ideal roles of school psychologists.

Keywords Applied Psychologists; Behavioral Modification Theory; Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy; Consultation; Developmental Psychopathology; Differential Reinforcement; Educational Psychology; Group Contingencies; Interventions; Psychological Assessment; Psychosocial Adjustment; School Psychologist


School psychologists work as psychological consultants within the context of schools. As applied psychologists, school psychologists provide advice and guidance within schools and school systems. Applied psychologists use their diverse training, education, psychological techniques, and knowledge to solve problems. School psychologists differ from educational psychologists, who are experts in teaching and learning processes. Educational psychologists also conduct applied or practical research to identify questions and answers related to educational and instructional processes (Weber, 1991).

School psychologists work with, and provide services on a daily basis to, classroom teachers who are consultees of their services. They work in close contact with teachers, administrators and other school professionals and paraprofessionals for a common goal and purpose-the social, emotional, and educational growth of students. When teachers, administrators and other school and district personnel work in tandem with school psychologists, they can most effectively utilize their expertise to provide specialized services to those students who can most benefit from them (Mamchak & Mamchak, 1976; Schiappa, Beaulieu, Wilczenski & Bontrager, 2000).

School psychologists concentrate on the needs of students within the educational environment. They may observe students in their classrooms, interview parents, and consult with professionals who have direct information about students' recent performance. They may administer tests and other assessments, gather assessment information about students, interpret and explain assessment results and write reports. School psychologists may serve on teams and committees throughout a school district (Lewis & Doorlag, 1987; Weber, 1991).


The history of school psychology can be traced to about 1890. During the period from 1890 to 1920, school psychology was one of many "child-saving" services that originated. The practice of school psychology has followed from the theory and the research interests of the psychologists of the time. The work of Granville Stanley Hall and Lightner Witmer are particularly noteworthy during the early years of this history (Fagan, 1992; French, 1984; Sandoval, 1993).

The American psychologist and educator Granville Stanley or G. S. Hall (1844-1924) founded and edited both the American Journal of Psychology in 1887 and the Journal of Applied Psychology in 1915. Hall is considered to be the founder of child psychology, educational psychology and of "scientific psychology" generally in the U. S. A. He became the first president of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1891. Hall also had numerous publications during the peak period of his professional work from 1911-1923 (Fagan, 1992; Merriam-Webster Inc., 1988).

Lightner Witmer (1867-1956) was one of the founders of clinical child psychology in the U. S. A. Witmer, in fact, coined the term 'clinical psychology' and founded the first 'psychological clinic' in the U. S. A. In addition to his numerous publications during the period from 1897-1922, Witmer also edited and published the journal The Psychological Clinic from 1908-1935. Witmer described his clinical methods as performing "little experiments on his cases" in order to understand them (Baron, 2006; Fagan, 1992; University of New Hampshire, 2007).

School psychologists were caught up in controversies over the use and misuse of IQ tests as social-science assessment and classification instruments, and the concept of intelligence, during the first third of the 20th century in the U. S. The focus of school psychology narrowed during the 1960s. The APA began accepting doctoral school programs for accreditation in school psychology in 1968. The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) recognized school psychology as a new examination area in 1968 as well. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) was founded in 1969. Consultation models and the consultation role of school psychologists were popular in the 1970s (Farling & Agner, 1979; French, 1985; Phillips, 2001; Reschly, 1976).

The development of interest in children's psychological rights, the changing concepts of childhood, children's rights movements, various declarations of children's rights such as those proposed by the United Nations, White House Conferences on Children and the International School Psychology Committee together constitutes an important historical stream having direct applications and impacts on school psychology (Hart, 1982).

As the numbers of "behaviorally challenging" students entering primary-grade classrooms in U. S. schools increased in the 1990s and early 2000s, a national movement toward expanded school mental-health programs and school-based health centers to provide mental health care to children and adolescents grew. Intervention methods, which had been another important aspect of school psychology, evolved into a full-fledged movement grounded in evidence-based interventions and evidence-based practice. Diversity and specialization within the field of school psychology continued to increase (Kratochwill & Shernoff, 2004; McDougal, Nastasi, & Chafouleas, 2005; Phillips, 1984; Weist, Goldstein, Morris, & Bryant, 2003).

Further Insights

Psychological Theory

School psychologists and guidance counselors need a theoretical and technical basis to design interventions that enhance relationships between children and teachers. There is a range of psychological theory and theoretical principles that underlie the strategies and methods of school psychology that are utilized. School-psychological practices are generally affected by child-centered educational theories (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1985; Pianta, 1999).

There have been three dominant tracks in school-psychological theory - behavioral, process-based and ecological-developmental. Interventions oriented to behavioral-modification theory have long been effectively used in schools. Process-based school-psychological interventions, as the name implies, involves a variety of processes that are employed with individuals and groups. Interventions based on ecological-developmental theory-cognitive development, social development and relationship systems-are approaches which guide and support child-teacher relations. Regardless of the specific theory, approaches to school-based psychological interventions need to be theory-guided, evidence-based and empirically-supported (Herman, Merrell, Reinke, & Tucker, 2004; Iowa State Department of Public Instruction, 1980; Kennedy & Kennedy, 2004; Kratochwill & Stoiber, 2000; Nastasi, 2000; Nastasi, 2006; Pianta, 1999; Sandoval, 1993).


Psychologists currently working in and practicing psychology in an educational context-traditional and non-traditional school and kindergarten settings-have a scientist-practitioner specialization and are termed specialist-level school psychologists (Lambert, 1993; Lazarus & Jackson, 1983).

School psychologists generally need to be nationally certified and have a state license to practice school psychology. There are three main organizations concerned with accreditation, credentialing, registration and practice regulations of the profession of school psychology. These three organizations for professional school psychologists are the American Psychological Association (APA), the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) and the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). School-psychological practices are regulated and controlled by the APA's "Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct" and NASP's "Principles for Professional Ethics" and "Standards for the Provision of School Psychological Services." Two additional organizations which practitioners should be aware of are the Council of Directors of School Psychology Programs and the Trainees of School Psychologists (Fagan & Wise, 2000; Lazarus & Jackson, 1983; Phillips, 1993; Phillips, 2001).

The professional practice of school psychology adheres strictly to psychological and developmental principles and emphasizes prevention, early intervention, consultation, assessment, counseling, collaboration and problem-solving. The school practice of psychology is affected by national beliefs, values and educational principles. These principles of practice require that school psychologists' work be "evidence-based, ecological, collaborative and constructive" (Annan, 2005). The practice of school psychology requires that psychologists and counselors have an incredible range of evidence-based knowledge (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1985; Kratochwill & Shernoff, 2003; Thomas & Grimes, 2002).

School psychologists in behavioral-consultation practice use a participatory team-based approach to interventions. Students are pre-referred to an intervention team. Interventions are built on the supportive features of referral situations. Guidelines for the application of behavioral-change methods are followed (Annan, 2005; Iowa State Department of Public Instruction, 1980; McDougal et al., 2005; Nastasi, 2000).

Among the other strategies and methods traditionally used for psychological interventions are differential reinforcement of low rates, differential reinforcement of other behavior, modeling-based interventions, negative practice and overcorrection, precision teaching, satiation, timeout, extinction and punishment (Iowa State Department of Public Instruction, 1980).

Services Provided

The traditional functions of school psychologists include consultation, assessment and counseling. In...

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