PRACTICE:
school psychological services

School Psychologists serve students, their families and teaching staff through the application of psychological knowledge about human behaviour, learning theory and development. School Psychology services contribute to an understanding of the social, emotional and learning needs of students in order to develop optimal learning environments for student success and positive mental health. Service is provided in a variety of ways.

SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGY SERVICES

School Psychology services are described in detail in the “Professional Practice Guidelines for School Psychologists in Ontario” (2013), a document published by the Ontario Psychological Association’s Section on Psychology in Education

Relevant sections of this document are included below. (A more detailed description of the psychological assessment process can be found in the document.)

Five Levels of Service / Intervention for School Psychologists

A.      Student-Focused Indirect Service / Intervention

Student-focused indirect service / intervention occurs when the school psychologist works with parents and teachers in planning educational and behavioural interventions for individual students. These kinds of interventions by school psychologists can include:

  • Consultation with teachers and administrators to address concerns related to individual student or class behaviour and learning difficulties.
  • Program planning following functional behavioural assessments in which psychologists provide advice on how to adapt the curriculum and make accommodations to meet a student’s learning style, cognitive profile, developmental level, or behavioural needs.
  • Parent collaboration to better understand students with behavioural, socio-emotional and learning difficulties and to best integrate intervention strategies across the settings in which students live and learn.
  • Goal setting by interpreting assessment findings and applying them to help to establish realistic goals based on a student’s strengths and needs.
  • Teacher assistance by consulting with teachers and suggesting teaching strategies based on the specific nature of the student’s learning or behavioural difficulty.
  • Interagency networking by collaborating and coordinating with other agencies to provide comprehensive services to the child or adolescent.
  • Referrals to other agencies and professionals, as needed.

B.      Student-Focused Direct Service / Intervention

Student-focused direct services include a psychological assessment and/or intervention (e.g. behavioural or cognitive-behavioural therapy) with an individual student.

Interventions are directed to students for recently developed or identified problems, sometimes of an urgent nature. Sometimes the goal of the intervention is to understand and accommodate a student’s difficulties within the school environment. At other times, intervention is directed to students at risk of leaving or removal from school (e.g. those with severe disruptive behaviour disorders who have passed the point where the usual interventions can be expected to be helpful).

These students may require what is called postvention or services for acute episodes (e.g. being asked to leave school) which result from chronic problems (e.g. a longstanding history of problematic and disruptive behaviour in school).

Postvention services typically involve more intensive supports in the form of alternative education programs, longer-term individual or family psychological interventions, drop-out recovery and follow-up support, and possible family preservation interventions. While these supports are not usually provided directly by the school psychologist, the school psychologist collaborates and consults in their delivery.

  •  Individual psychological assessment: The cornerstone of a psychological assessment is often psychological testing. However, the interpretation of psychological testing is done in the context of other information collected and interpreted by the psychologist. This information includes classroom observations, file review, gathering case history information through interviews and checklists, collection of functional behavioural data, and reviewing other professional assessments of the child or adolescent. Psychological testing may include the administration and interpretation of standardized objective and projective psychological tests to assess such areas and functions as cognitive development, memory, language, executive functioning, visual perception, auditory perception, language development, visual motor skills, academic attainment, and socio-emotional and behaviour adjustment. The data from a comprehensive psychological assessment informs a psychologist’s recommendations concerning intervention strategies for parents and teachers.
  • Individual intervention / counselling: School psychologists use evidence-based psychological interventions such as relaxation training, social skills training, cognitive, behavioural, and rational emotive interventions. These interventions help the student and others better understand the nature of a problem or personal issue, how best to solve or manage it, and how to prevent future problems. Interventions can also help the student and others plan for the future in the context of issues or problems related to school success. Research has shown that mental health interventions run more smoothly when school-based support services providers, including school psychologists, deliver the interventions at both the individual or group level (Lean & Colucci, 2010).
  • Group intervention and behaviour skills development: School psychologists often meet the needs of a number of students by organizing small groups which focus on specific issues or the enhancement of specific coping skills. Some examples are social skills training, anger management training, stress management training, and interventions to respond to the effects of divorce on children and adolescents.

 C.      Whole Class and School-Wide Interventions

School-wide interventions help a school in its efforts to improve how it meets students’ mental health and learning needs. These kinds of interventions by school psychologists include:

  •  Liaison with and/or serving on school-based problem-solving teams.
  • Collaboration with teachers and administrators to support the inclusion of exceptional students within the school.
  • In-service education to teachers and administrators in such areas as behaviour support, mental health literacy and supports, classroom management strategies, assessment methods, understanding exceptionalities, suicide prevention, and stress management.
  • Prevention by advising on whole class and school-wide prevention and intervention programs that facilitate the development of a positive school environment. The Positive Behaviour Interventions and Supports approach is an example of a school-wide approach to discipline (www.pbis.org ).
  • Consultation with teachers and administrators in the provision of information about learning styles and behaviours commonly associated with various identified learning, socio-emotional, and behavioural problems.
  • Best practices support by providing information related to current research on interventions in the area of children’s and adolescents’ mental health and various exceptionalities.
  • Planning by participating in planning and implementing school-wide screening and assessment programs.
  • Postvention by coordinating, debriefing and supporting students and staff following a tragic event which affects the school as a whole, and monitoring students and staff to ensure that healing occurs and referrals are made when appropriate.
  • Teaching by providing parenting programs and staff in-service educational opportunities.

D.     District / System-Wide Interventions

District/system-wide interventions help the system as a whole improve its effectiveness in supporting student achievement and well-being, and in dealing with students’ mental health and learning difficulties. Examples of these types of interventions by school psychologists include:

  • In-service education through district-wide professional development for educational staff on issues such as child and adolescent development, mental health literacy and support, behaviour support and classroom management, exceptionalities, suicide prevention, and assessment.
  • Screening by developing and carrying out early screening programs in the schools to support appropriate programming and to ensure that students at risk for academic or behavioural problems in the classroom are identified in a timely fashion so that appropriate interventions can be implemented to address the individual student’s needs before they become chronic difficulties.
  • Evaluation by assisting with data collection and evaluation of system-wide mental health, special education or other interventions.
  • Best practices support by reviewing and providing information on current educational and psychological research on topics of relevance to educators.
  • Intervention programs by assisting in developing, implementing, or consulting with system-wide intervention programs (e.g. positive behaviour interventions and supports, conflict resolution, social skills, bullying prevention programs, drop-out prevention, violence prevention, crisis intervention and response, alternative education programs).
  • Outreach by developing and implementing inclusive, multicultural   parenting programs and information sessions on a variety of topics.
  • Networking by serving on multi-agency committees and programs, and collaborating with various agencies in program planning and development.
  • Advocacy for children and adolescents with learning, developmental, socio-emotional and behavioural exceptionalities.

E.      Research

The training of psychologists involves the completion of an undergraduate degree followed by a graduate degree in psychology.  It includes the study of, and training in, the science and practice of psychology. Both are equally important to ensure competency as a psychologist. Psychologists ascribe to practice-based science (i.e. experiences in practice should direct research) as well as science-based practice (i.e. the results of research should shape best practices).

Psychologists are skilled in the areas of research design and statistical analysis and this enables them to direct or advise on research projects in the educational setting. A psychologist’s role in school-based research can include project design and planning, data collection, data analysis, interpretation of results, and translation of findings into practical applications. Examples of school-based research projects include assessments of the effectiveness of different types of behavioural and educational interventions and programs and evaluations for the effectiveness and validity of various group and individual assessment measures.

There is a large body of national and international educational psychology journals devoted to the publication of school-based psychological research. Although not all practicing psychologists are actively involved in research, it is accepted within the profession that research literature should guide their practice and they have an ethical responsibility to keep their knowledge up to date.