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What is a School Psychologist and How Did I Become One?

When I was in 2nd grade my parents divorced. It was a very difficult time for me having to acclimate to an unfamiliar life where my brother and I spent time with my Dad at his new house every other weekend. I remember at school I would leave my classroom for a period of time to speak with Ms. Martha, the school counselor. In her office we'd talk about the things that were going on with my life and how I was adjusting to my parents' divorce. We spent a lot of time talking about feelings and emotions. She had a chart with faces depicting a variety of emotions and she would ask me to point to how I was feeling on each particular day and we would talk about it. At the end of our time together, Ms. Martha would offer me a piece of candy, which I'd gladly accept and happily bring back to my classroom. I can't recall how long I saw Ms. Martha; if it was just for a few months or the whole school year, but I do know she had a profound impact on my life.

I decided in high school that I wanted to study Psychology in college. As cliche as it sounds, I wanted to help others. I remembered my time spent with Ms. Martha and how much she helped me. I thought about her often and especially in high school when I was considering my career plans. I hoped that I'd be able to thank her someday; although I really didn't think it was possible since she was long retired by that point. But as fate would have it, I was working my part-time job as a cashier my Senior year when she happened to walk by. She recognized me immediately (which truly amazes me to this day), called out my name, and came over to say hello. It was then that I was able to thank this incredible woman for helping a scared, confused, sad little girl through the hardest time in her life. Ms. Martha hugged me and we parted ways. I'm forever grateful that I was able to express my gratitude to her after all those years.

Although I did not become a School Counselor like my wonderful Ms. Martha, I found a career which allowed me to work in schools and help students and their families. While attending a workshop about graduate school for Psychology students, I learned about School Psychologists. I had never even heard of them before. Many people are not very familiar with them as well or the role they serve in the school setting, often confusing them with School Counselors or Social Workers because they too can provide counseling services. According to the National Association of School Psychologists' (NASP) website, "School psychologists provide direct support and interventions to students; consult with teachers, families, and other school-employed mental health professionals (i.e., school counselors, school social workers) to improve support strategies; work with school administrators to improve school-wide practices and policies; and collaborate with community providers to coordinate needed services". Another important aspect not included in this specific definition is that School Psychologists are trained to conduct psychological assessments in the areas of IQ or intellectual ability, behavior, social/emotional, social developmental history, and adaptive (daily living) skills. School Psychologists use information gathered during these assessments to write psychological reports as well as present test results and data to parents and other school personnel. They serve as a member of a multi-disciplinary team with typically include school professionals such as Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs), Occupational Therapists, School Social Workers, Physical Therapists, Certified School Nurses, and Special Education Teachers in order to provide support for students.

It seems like so long ago that I was that young girl in 2nd grade sitting across from Ms. Martha in her office while she attentively listened with care and understanding, pointing to pictures with their corresponding emotions, and returning to class with my sweet treat. To this day I think of her often, and hope the work I'm doing improves the lives of children in some small way, or, if I were to be so fortunate-in the way she forever improved mine.

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