What is School Psychology? Definition, History, Career, and Vs. School Counselor

What is School Psychology?

School psychology is a unique discipline that combines knowledge from various fields to support the educational and psychological needs of children and youth. Its primary goal is to create inclusive and supportive learning environments that promote healthy development for all students.

School psychology is a specialized field within Health Service Psychology that focuses on the well-being of children, youth, and families in relation to their educational experiences. It combines knowledge from various disciplines such as developmental psychology, counseling, and education to address the diverse needs of students.

School psychologists play a crucial role in creating positive learning environments and ensuring equal access to effective educational and psychological services. Their responsibilities encompass individual and system-level interventions, including the development, implementation, and evaluation of programs aimed at fostering healthy development.

School psychologists work with children and young adults facing learning difficulties, behavioral challenges, disabilities, and mental health issues. They collaborate with teachers and families to optimize the learning environment and promote the overall well-being of students.

While assessments and psychological testing are important components of school psychology, there is a growing emphasis on interventions that address academic needs and involve family engagement. Professional associations like the American Psychological Association and the National Association of School Psychologists provide guidance, training, and certification to enhance the quality and consistency of school psychological services.

Related: What is Educational Psychology? Definition, History, Perspectives, Theories, and Careers

A Brief History of School Psychology

The field of school psychology has a rich history that dates back to the late 19th century. In 1896, Lightner Witmer established the first psychological clinic at the University of Pennsylvania, aiming to address the school-related problems of children. This marked the early application of psychology to educational contexts.

Around the same time, Francis Galton, James Catell, and Alfred Binet were developing intelligence measures to understand individual differences. In 1904, Binet was commissioned by the French government to identify children who would benefit from special classes. His work led to the classification of children’s intelligence based on their scores compared to the average for their age.

The early 20th century saw significant social changes, including the introduction of child labor laws, juvenile courts, and compulsory education. As the number of students attending school increased, there was a growing need to classify them based on their academic abilities to provide an appropriate education.

The term “school psychology” was not used until 1911, but the discipline gained recognition and momentum throughout the mid-20th century. Governing bodies were formed during the 1960s to define the roles of school psychologists and establish training and certification programs.

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By the year 2000, the popularity of becoming a school psychologist had grown significantly, with over 200 programs available in the United States alone. Today, school psychology is recognized internationally, and research continues to highlight its vital role in improving education and child development.

What Do School Psychologists Do?

School psychologists play a crucial role in supporting the academic, social, emotional, and behavioral needs of students. They provide direct assistance and interventions to students, consult with teachers, families, and other professionals, and collaborate with community providers.

Their responsibilities encompass a wide range of areas:

  1. Improve Academic Achievement: School psychologists promote student motivation, conduct assessments, individualize instruction, manage behavior, and monitor progress. They work to reduce inappropriate referrals to special education.
  2. Promote Positive Behavior and Mental Health: They assess students’ emotional and behavioral needs, provide counseling, promote problem-solving and social skills, reinforce positive coping strategies, and facilitate positive peer relationships.
  3. Support Diverse Learners: School psychologists assess diverse learning needs, provide culturally responsive services, assist in developing individualized education programs for students with disabilities, and modify instruction to accommodate different learning styles.
  4. Create Safe, Positive School Climates: They work to prevent bullying and violence, support social-emotional learning, assess school climate, implement positive discipline approaches, and provide crisis prevention and intervention services.
  5. Strengthen Family-School Partnerships: School psychologists help families understand their child’s needs, navigate special education processes, connect with community services, and enhance collaboration between families and school staff.
  6. Improve School-Wide Assessment and Accountability: They monitor individual student progress, collect and analyze data on student outcomes and risk factors, and plan services at various levels.

In addition to these responsibilities, school psychologists also engage in research, supervise and educate aspiring professionals, and stay informed about relevant laws and regulations.

It’s important to note that the role of school psychologists may vary across countries, but the overall focus remains on supporting students’ well-being and educational success.

Also Read: What is Experimental Psychology? Definition, History, Methods, and Careers

Career in School Psychology

A career in school psychology offers a rewarding opportunity to make a positive impact on students’ lives. To pursue this path, individuals need a graduate degree in school psychology or a related field.

They acquire skills in assessment, counseling, intervention, consultation, and research. School psychologists collaborate with educators, families, and communities to support student’s academic, social, and emotional development.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for psychologists, including school psychologists, was $82,180 as of May 2020. Employment prospects in this field are expected to grow faster than average, making it a promising career choice for those passionate about helping children succeed.

Also Read: What is Cross-Cultural Psychology? Definition, History, and Importance

School Psychologist Vs. School Counselor

School psychologists and school counselors are often confused due to their overlapping duties, but they have distinct roles and areas of focus.

School psychologists primarily support individual students with developmental and mental health issues, conducting assessments and tests to determine eligibility for additional services. They also educate parents on their child’s learning process and make decisions regarding special education services.

Related: What is Counseling Psychology? Definition, History, Careers, and How To Become One

In contrast, school counselors work with the entire student population, providing general support and interventions, including crisis intervention and preparing students for future educational and professional experiences. They engage in short-term counseling sessions that aim to enhance overall well-being and address a wide range of concerns.

School psychology training typically involves a multidisciplinary knowledge base, including child psychology, development, and special education, while school counseling programs focus on general counseling skills.

School psychologists often work with special education populations and require more extensive graduate training, including internship hours, compared to school counselors. Both professions play crucial roles in supporting students, but they have different areas of expertise and responsibilities within the school setting.


  • https://www.psych.upenn.edu/history/witmertext.htm
  • https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/school
  • American Psychological Association. (2014). Educational psychology promotes teaching and learning. Psychology: Science in Action. Retrieved January 28, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/action/science/teaching-learning
  • Begeny, J. C., Wang, J., Hida, R. M., Oluokun, H. O., & Jones, R. A. (2019). A global examination of peer-reviewed, scholarly journal outlets devoted to school and educational psychology. School Psychology International40(6), 547–580.
  • https://www.education.udel.edu/masters/school-psychology/
  • Chodkiewicz, A. R., & Boyle, C. (2016). Positive psychology school-based interventions: A reflection on current success and future directions. Review of Education5(1), 60–86.

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