In the current edition of the National Association of School Psychologist’s [NASP] Communiqué, Dr. Stephen Lange has an editorial entitled, “Is There a School Psychology Diaspora?” (read the full text here). Though the piece asks more questions than it answers (rarely a bad thing, in my mind), it struck a chord with me in terms of the feasibility of taking the school psychologist out of the school setting.
Although the specific job description of the school psychologist in the US varies from state to state, the training looks similar, especially among NASP-approved programs: statistics & research, psychometrics, behavior analysis & support, counseling, consultation, learning disabilities, etc. Such skills, I imagine (and Dr. Lange confirms) are marketable outside of a traditional K-12 school setting; Dr. Lange describes his experiences working in non-educational settings with both non-doctoral and doctoral degrees in school psychology.
But school psychologists get the training they do specifically because they want to work in schools. So what on Earth could ever convince a school psychologist to leave the education sector?
Dr. Lange explains:
I am sure that school psychologists leave public education for myriad reasons, but the increasing emphasis in special education on litigation and procedural compliance provided the impetus for my exodus. I suspect that there must be others who have left for similar reasons. The threat of litigation and work expended to avoid court was a drain on time and resources, and an obstacle to collaboration in service of children’s educations. It can be mind numbing to produce endless letters of notification, often in legal boilerplate. It can be supremely stressful to cope with a practice model that seems to encourage conflict. (emphasis mine)
I think Lange nails it right here. In trying to express and reflect upon the frustrations I often experience in my position, a great many of the issues I seem to have come down to this. It’s less an issue of the local education agency (although problems can and do exist at the local level in any district) and more an issue of the framework in which we – students, parents, psychologists, teachers, administrators – are forced to operate.
Beyond the most obvious external conflicts, there are also internal conflicts, such as the ethical dilemmas that exist within this system. As Lange explains,
On the one hand, like all psychologists, each must adhere to the imperative to respect individual rights, and to act with beneficence. On the other hand, schools are organized to follow a utilitarian imperative to do as much as possible for the greatest number of pupils, even if that means the needs or wants of one child or one parent are frustrated.
Beyond the educational and mental health implications for students, parents, and schools, the quality of work life for school psychologists rests largely on how these ethical dilemmas expose psychologists to interpersonal, professional, and legal conflicts. How many school psychologists exit public education for other professional arenas after contending with the “Who is the Client” issue? Are there only a few wanderers, or is there a diaspora? If so, how big is it?
I wish I had more concrete advice to give to “fix” the situation, but I’m afraid I’m at a loss here, at least for implementation within the current system. Lange is right – the system encourages conflict, and no ‘band-aid’ approaches will change this. It’s times like these that I think back to Illich’s “start from scratch” mentality and wonder if that’s the only solution – not to change the existing framework, but to create a new one.
I’m grateful to Dr. Lange for very clearly expressing the frustration I’ve felt, but not been able to articulate, and for anyone who might wish to write us off as whining or complaining, it’s awfully telling that Lange describes his exit from the school setting thusly:
…a few more beatings like that chased me out of schools and into the practice of psychology in a much more reasonable, rational type of setting—state prisons.
Lange, S.M. (2011, January/February). Is there a school psychology diaspora? Communiqué, 39(5), 20.