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School Psychology

A Practical Application of Advanced Theory

There are few more fascinating areas of study than the theory of learning. Our greatest achievements are accomplished as a result of learning; our communities depend on the ability to pass on knowledge and culture to our children and adults. The theoretical and research aspects of the investigation of learning is a matter for educational psychology. The applied use of those studies, though, is found in “common” school psychology.

Theory Aimed at Practical Application

  • Cognitive studies, theories of mind, philosophies of education
  • The practical realities
  • Training

Study of the Mind History

The study of the mind and its ability to learn has a long history, though often a history of amusing mistaken assumptions. From Enlightenment theories of the infant mind as a blank slate, empty of all pattern and prior input, to the mechanistic view of the mind as a preordained set of instinctive reflexes and conditioned responses as automatic and easily controlled as a computer, theorists have considered hundreds of models of how humans learn, and why.

Whether theories are based on neuro-chemical theories of cognitive science, or on philosophical theories of mind, in which the abstract mind exists apart from the biology that supports it, there remain practical applications. Researchers and counselors struggle to establish clear understanding of how, and under what circumstances humans learn best.

Theories Applied in Real World

These theories are then applied in the real world, by teachers, administrators, and by school psychologists, all working to ensure students are given the best possible chance to learn.
For school psychologists this often becomes the art of the do-able. Regardless of what theories they learned in graduate school, actual practice in a working grade or high school, or in a college or university, school psychologists are faced over and over with the living implications of circumstances overriding a student’s efforts to learn. A school psychologist then works to establish the most advantageous circumstances for the largest possible number of students, intervening in whatever ways seem most likely to help.

This can lead to a school psychologist applying dozens of techniques from as many schools of educational theory on a daily basis. One child may simply need access to school breakfast to improve his or her learning. Another may need help with a chemical addiction. A third may need help finding a personal counselor or 12-step group. Yet another may be suffering from ADHD and be in desperate need of a combination of medication, private behavioral therapy, and basic tutoring.

A school therapist is in a position to improvise a new answer with every child, and must have the training and background to open up the full range of those options. For this reason most school psychologists are well grounded in a broad range of educational, developmental, and child psychology techniques and theories.

Psychology Degree Needed

Training for school psychology involves a minimum of an M.A. in psychology, with the possibility of a Ph.D. not unusual. Because the intended work is applied, and often applied under difficult and complex circumstances, the ideal training is grounded in child studies, and developmental studies, with a wide additional level of general psychology and basic sociology. Few school psychologists have the luxury of dealing with single children in isolation: problems develop within families and communities, and sociological techniques are often more a part of practice for a school psychologist as are classic Freudian or Jungian talk therapy.

To plan a future career in school psychology it’s best to confer with professional referral sources and academic advisors who can recommend the most practical approach for your educational path. Preparing for a long process including graduate studies demands care and consideration, and plenty of advance planning.


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