Selected Essays

By Beth Doll

I'm very pleased that the Future's Conference is occurring, and am also pleased that you have chosen to focus on the shortage of school psychologists that threatens the effectiveness of our profession. I will first address my essay to my immediate recommendations related to the shortage, but will then broaden my discussion to include the ways that we practice school psychology and, finally, the international repercussions of the work that we do in the United States.

Recommendation 1

We are a hidden profession. We have not done well at the very essential task of recruiting new colleagues into the profession of school psychology. High school and undergraduate students, caught up in imagining the possibilities of their future careers, have no sense that there is a professional called 'school psychologist.' In my many conversations with brand new school psychology graduate students, I have heard too many stories about how they 'discovered' that school psychologists exist through accidental conversations at a party, or by stepping into the wrong office by mistake. Thus, one of my recommendations to the conference will be that we forge a comprehensive action plan to make school psychology visible to young people before they commit to a career. I attempted to do this two years ago when a grant project placed me in a middle school for two days each week. I sponsored a booth to talk about being a school psychologist in the middle school's career day. However, I found that recruiting at this early level cannot be accomplished by university faculty alone. Faculty don't have easy access to the right audiences, we're not recognized as familiar faces by the students and, more importantly, we often cannot talk vividly about recent experiences with children and their families.

Recommendation 2

We also need to make clearer commitments to recruit career-changing adults into the profession and to accommodate career-changing adults in our training programs. Some of these adults are coming from very different professions (real estate, military service, banking), while others are coming from professions whose skills overlap with our own (teaching, social work, or licensed psychologists.) I have worked with all of these nontraditional students in my role as a program director, and have come to recognize the unexpected roadblocks to their training. There are time-limits embedded into our training and accreditation requirements that make it difficult for an older adult to meet. For example, my older students often had to do their internship part time, and so were among the few students whose internship was unpaid. When persons attempt to enter our profession from related fields such as social work or counseling, their prior coursework an experience ca!
n make some training requirements redundant. At one point, I built a special program for respecialization of school social workers that allowed them to request waivers of program requirements when they could document that it duplicated their prior graduate coursework. As a result of my work in this project, one complaint was brought against me by the state social worker organization, because I had implied that school social workers were not already well trained, and a second by a practicing school psychologist, who believed that I had made it too easy for the social workers to join the profession. Several of the social workers, too, were criticized by their colleagues for pursuing additional certification. Discussions between Division 16 and NASP to discuss respecialization of psychologists from other specialty areas have also been emotionally charged. On the face of it, recruiting career-changing adults into school psychology ought to be a simple proposition. In fact, it is fraught with political land mines. The profession will need to be clear-thinking about our training requirements, logical in defining our professional credentials and protective of our standards for practice while still making it reasonable for dedicated adult professionals to join our ranks.

Recommendation 3

The growing shortage has placed training programs under intense pressures, and it will be important for the Future's Conference to recognize these. Many states are coping with the shortage by issuing provisional or temporary certifications to people if they agree to go back to school and complete their training. The Colorado Board of Education stopped this practice once they realized that the state had over 60 people practicing school psychology without full training. Many holders of temporary certificates believe that they are entitled to unquestioned admission into the nearest graduate program in school psychology, and exert great political pressure on training directors if they are denied entry. I have received letters and phone calls from U. S. Senators and Congressmen, urging me to admit a temporarily certified student. Protests against my program were lodged with the state department of education, and the local newspaper printed letters to the editor protesting our admission policies. An easy way for universities to accommodate more and more students is to hire adjunct or course-by-course faculty, and there are programs in the country that have more courses taught by temporary faculty than by permanent ones. It is ironic that an increase in temporary certificates in school psychology can result in those 'temporaries' being trained by temporary faculty. We could quickly lose control over the quality of our program and of our profession, unless we find ways to protect the integrity of training programs under these pressures.

Recommendation 4

The most convenient way for school districts to address the immediate shortage is to hire fewer school psychologists, and increase the load on each one of them. This is a common strategy in rural Nebraska and, as a result, our ratios have risen very quickly. School psychologists who are, even now, working under the pressures of rising ratios are having to make critical decisions about which tasks to keep and which to let go. In my conversations with these colleagues, I am a strong advocate for population-based services, which recognize and prioritize the school mental health needs of the population of students enrolled in a district. Identifying those needs requires that we step back from referral-based identification procedures and substitute whole group screening strategies instead. Serving the population requires that we focus first on the social and emotional environments that our schools create for the students that they educate, and second on meeting the special needs of children whose emotional disturbances persist even in effective environments. School Psychology is one of the few psychological specialties that can practice population-based services, because our practice is not constrained by the diagnosis and treatment and income limitations imposed by 3rd party payers (insurance, courts, social services, Medicaid or other programs that pay for mental heath services.) Traditional, referral-based services lock us into a mental health service delivery system that provides the most services to the 'squeakiest wheels,' fixing one wheel at a time. As staffing ratios increase, it is increasingly apparent that we will never be staffed at a level that will allow us to fix all the wheels that need to be fixed. Alternatively, population-based services could be structured to recognize the totality of mental health needs within the population, embed prevention and early intervention strategies into the everyday routines of schools, and focus specialized services on the most serious needs.

Recommendation 5

Finally, while I understand that the focus of the Futures Conference will be domestic, I believe that we ought to conduct our work with an eye to the rest of the world. Increasingly, the children that we serve have come to our schools from other schools in other countries, and the practices that we advocate have become models for practice for other countries. We are an international profession, and we can learn from and contribute to our counterparts in other nations. I spend two weeks each year consulting with special education teachers in rural Nicaragua, and their questions are remarkably similar to those of teachers in rural Nebraska. I use examples from Nicaraguan schools in my university courses on population-based services. I recently had a chance to present at a professional conference at Beijing Normal University, and the faculty were looking to the United States for leadership in blending psychology into education. These other countries are working under ratios that are far higher than ours will be, even under the shortage. If we cannot find ways to maintain effective services under these less than ideal conditions, how can other countries hope to do so.

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Last updated at August 30, 2002 by Xiaojing Kou