Transcript for Video Clip: Dr. Aimee Holt (School Psychology)

Interviewer: Welcome to our next guest speaker. I'd like to have her go ahead and introduce herself and briefly describe your area of specialization.

Dr. Holt: I'm Aimee Holt and my area of specialization is school psychology. That is probably an area that most people have not heard of, unless they're familiar with special education. And so I often find when I talk to undergraduates, even some graduate students, that they're very confused about what a school psychologist actually does.

Int: I've obviously got some questions about that, so hopefully you can answer some of those for us, Aimee. What are the career opportunities for students who specialize in this area? Or, what are some of the things that a person can do in this area?

Dr. H: The majority of school psychologists work in the public education setting, but that's not the only place they work. They also work in private schools. Some of them work for acute care hospitals that work with children that might have a school as a component of that or long term residential treatment facilities. Some at the doctoral level go on into private practice and have their own practices and things like that. So there's a wide variety of settings. But the primary setting that we're in is in the public school setting.

Int: I guess there's also the academic positions, like the one you're in...

Dr. H: That's correct.

Int: How about, could you describe what a typical work day -- I know that might be hard to do because there's a lot of variation -- but a typical work day might be for somebody working, maybe especially in the schools.

Dr. H: Well, it's probably a good idea to give them a background on how school psychology, or what a school psychologist is and then from there lead into a typical day. The school psychologist is the person that provides the mental health link in the academic, in the public school setting. So what we're interested in is, what are the issues that may prevent a child from learning at their potential, whether it be academic concerns, or behavioral, or emotional concerns. So our focus is on how do we work with the parents and the staff to increase the likelihood for that child to be successful in the public school setting.

As far as the typical day goes, a lot of people when they hear "school psychology," assume that we only do assessment and they think about assessment real narrowly, that we're just sitting there giving a bunch of IQ tests. While that is a primary part of our job (assessment's a primary part of our job), in a lot of places IQ testing isn't really as active in the assessment process. And school psychologists, especially, we're more interested in studying the environment. And so we'll start off with classroom observations, interviews with the teacher, reviewing works samples, interviewing parents, to finally get to, try and get an idea of what are the issues or the concerns. And then we try to look for what are things we can change in the environment, that might improve the student's learning. We start there and so what we'll do is work with the teacher and recommend interventions to be done in the regular class settings. We'll monitor those, kind of set up a research design, to see how effective those interventions are. If the child is still struggling after those interventions, we may makes some modifications to them, or at that point, we may refer for formal testing. But a lot of the problem-solving we do is prior to any formal testing being done. A lot of the kids, we can remediate problems just by making modifications in the regular classroom environment.

Int: So there's kind of data collection, observations, maybe speaking with the teachers, or the parents, or the kids themselves.

Dr. H: That�s right. We kind of look at school psychology as providing two types of services, we provide indirect services and direct services. Indirect services would be the things where we are doing consultation with the teacher and the parent on strategies and suggestions to improve academic performance, or emotional, or behavioral issues that are impacting academic performance. For example, if we had an ADHD student and the parent was having difficulty with the child getting homework done, we might work in consultation with the parent on strategies to help with homework. On the other hand -- that same child -- if the problem was the child getting their assignments completed in class, then we might work with the classroom teacher doing consultation to determine how can we redefine the way assignments are done so as to increase the likelihood of those getting turned in on time -- if that's what the issue or the concern is.

Int: So it sounds like you have to be pretty flexible in this job.

Dr. H: It is definitely. It is a job that every single day you will do something different. You may be in consultation meetings, you may be involved in meetings. Once a child is already placed in special education, the school psychologist's office serves as a kind of consultant on what can we expect as far as the growth rate for the child, what kinds of improvements should we be expecting, we look back and kind of evaluate the program of education they've been on. Are they making adequate process? You may be doing consulting work with the principal or even higher at the superintendent level if there's a district-wide concern about, now with national testing, high states testing with no child left behind and those programs. We look at how, what types of curriculum maybe need to change, so that scores can improve district-wide, or for an entire school building and then, there is, as far as the direct services go, that's when we might be involved in actually testing a child to see if they qualify for special education, meeting with the families to review, and the teachers to review, those test results. We also will do therapy, not the kind of therapy that you might think about with a child clinical person. We would be working primarily doing individual or small group work with children already in special education and addressing behavioral and emotional issues that are causing them academic problems in the school setting. So, generally it's really limited to academic -- you know, things that are contributing to academic difficulties.

Int: My next question is, what are, I guess, kind of in a nutshell, what are the basic or extensive training requirements to be able to work in this area?

Dr. H: The minimum requirement is what's called an EdS, it's beyond a master's degree. Most programs that offer an EdS are three-year programs, two years of coursework and then a year of internship. For most people, that one year of internship is a paid internship, can be a paid internship experience. So you�re working, but you�re working under supervision for a year. That's the primary degree, the majority of school psychologists have. There are some people that go on to get the doctorate degree. Those are people who are primarily interested in doing research or working in an academic setting or people who are interested in becoming a district-wide supervisor. So maybe the director of psychological services for a large school district, that person might have a PhD, but the general practicing person is going to have the EdS.

Int: Anybody who's a school psychologist, officially titled, has an EdS.

Dr. H: As of 2000, when the laws changed in 2000. The EdS certification is required in almost all states. There are a few states that still allow a master's, but almost all states have gone to the EdS.

Int: OK, a little bit different kind of question. Is there a certain kind of person that you think is best suited for working in this area or, maybe a different way of putting it, what personal characteristics do you think are most important for working in this area, somebody who works in this area?

Dr. H: I think one of the things you pointed out earlier, adaptability, somebody who really enjoys problem solving. You know, usually when I'm working with my graduate students, you know, I say our role is the detective. Our job is to figure out what are some of the underlying causes of the problems and what are some strategies that we could recommend, that are research based, that would help alleviate the difficulty. It needs to be somebody who enjoys working, both with children and adults, because we do have to work with both. You have to have the ability to work independently. You have to have good time management skills, because oftentimes, school psychologists are assigned to -- where a school guidance counselor may be housed in a single building. A school psychologist is usually assigned to two or three different schools. And so, one day a week, maybe assigned to school A that may be a smaller school and then two days a week you devote to school B, that's a little bit larger school. One day a week you may reserve for report writing and some of those kind of in-house office days that you need. Some school psychologists, in fact, that have very large high schools may actually be assigned to that building for the entire week, especially if you have several thousand students in that one building.

Int: OK, what would you say are the major positives and major negatives about being a school psychologist?

Dr. H: I had the fortune of working out in the field as a school psychologist before going back and getting my doctoral degree and I loved the job. I mean, the actual day-to-day practice of a school psychologist, to me, is fascinating. Probably the best thing about it is you get to work with children to help them feel successful. And so, to me, that was the most rewarding. I mean, there were so many times, after testing and discovering what a problem was and explaining that problem to the child and the family, and then have a child look at you and say, "You mean I'm not stupid?" That's such a rewarding experience to know that you helped hand someone the keys, sometimes to access the knowledge that they've been wanting, or to help them resolve a problem in a healthier, more productive way for themselves. That to me, definitely is the most rewarding part. And you see results very quickly in the school setting. Teachers expect there to be results fairly quickly and if not we go to the next level, until we achieve the results we need. So there�s some pretty immediate feedback about how successful your intervention strategies and those things are. That part, I think, is really positive.

As far as the negative concepts are sometimes there are some really difficult problems to solve. We are very much in a time where we are seeing types of services that might have been available in the private sector shrinking, and so more and more children with more profound issues are needing those issues met in the public school system, because those community-based resources aren't there. And then, in addition to that, we are experiencing a real change in our culture and becoming much more of a multicultural society. And so it's not unusual, as a school psychologist, to help work with teachers that may be experiencing children who are refugees, who their first exposure to a public school setting may even be as a third or a fourth grader and they are having to learn a language, they're having to learn a culture and customs, and so helping teachers adapt to that, those situations. And often times I think the undergraduate students, when I describe that are really surprised, even in the middle Tennessee area where we are, there are some high schools, in Nashville, for example, where over 50 languages are spoken in that one school. So the idea that schools are kind of like a little microcosm of what is happening in the community. You can watch every night on the nightly news and see some of the issues that are happening in our community in general. Those same issues then show up in our school setting, so whether it's violence, victimization, academic issues, you know, adjustment to multicultural identity. Those are all things that a school psychologist becomes knowledgeable about. So you know, therefore the job, at times, can be stressful.

Int: OK, one last question. Do you have any advice that you'd give to students who are interested about preparing for a career in this area?

Dr. H: There are several things I would recommend doing. One of the things I would suggest is seeking out the professors that are a part of the school psych program and letting them mentor you through some of your elective class selection and maybe even talk to them about possibilities for minors and those kinds of things. Often times we've got some good insight into what kinds of things you could put together to really help increase your knowledge or your understanding, even before you get to apply to a program. I would also recommend that when they get to that place when they're starting to look at programs they ought to look for programs that have the national certification, although we have several programs in our state that don't have national certification that are good programs. The advantage of the national certification is that, many times other states will give reciprocity, which means you don't have to take additional licensing exams in those other states in order to practice. So, especially if you're an undergraduate student that thinks that someday you might actually live somewhere other than Tennessee, it would be advantageous to seek out a school psych program that has NASP certification, which is our national organization, National Association of School Psychologists. And those programs generally are going to be programs that are going to meet requirements for any state that you might want to move to.

Int: OK, we'll have more information and resources, related links and so on in the "Learn More About It!" course modules. I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you very much, Dr. Holt, and we'll see you all back online.