Shadowing a High-School School Psychologist

Earlier this week I had a wonderful time shadowing a school psychologist.  I chose this activity because it is the best way to get an idea of what my future career could look like.  Also, she said we would get to go to a high school and I am interested in possibly working with adolescents.  I met her this morning at one of her elementary schools.  I was surprised to see she has her own office.  She said she actually has her own office in all of her schools.  She is a graduate of the William and Mary program and shared some advice as far as real world versus best practice.  She said that she wished William and Mary had provided more counseling classes because the first time she held a group therapy session for 5th grade boys, she felt completely lost.  She then went back and got her Ph.D. in Counselor Education.  I was surprised to hear that she spends at max 50% of her time doing assessment and she said a large portion of the rest of her time is spent counseling.   I was actually happy to hear that because I think I would like to have a role in counseling in the future. 

            After talking for a while, we headed over to her high school for a manifestation meeting.  A high school student, who I’ll call A, assaulted his teacher and the student has ADHD.  Therefore, the meeting was to determine if his behavior was a manifestation of his disorder (meaning he could not really help his behavior) or if it was more of a choice.  We were not the only ones at the meeting.  There was also the vice principle, the student’s special ed teacher, and I think someone from the School Board.  I thought it was interesting that one of the other people at the meeting did not even really know the purpose of a manifestation meeting.  Before the meeting started, this lady was asking the school psychologist why there was an upcoming manifestation meeting for a child with a 504.  She said “Why would that be since manifestation meetings are to determine (special ed) placement?”  The school psychologist had to explain to her that manifestation meetings were to determine if a child’s behavior was a manifestation of their disorder and that an IEP meeting would come afterward to determine changes in placement.

            Originally the rest of the team was not in favor of having the teacher attend the meeting since A and his mother were going to be there.  The school psychologist insisted the teacher be there because she did not want to work off of hunches about what happened that day.  She wanted to hear the whole story from both sides.  It was a good thing she insisted because it actually swayed the entire outcome of the meeting.  The teacher told A to close the classroom door, but A slammed the door.  When he asked A why he slammed the door, A directed profanity at him and “bumped him.”  However the teacher noted that it seemed like during the whole incident, it seemed like someone else was in charge of A (almost as if he was alluding to a different part of A’s personality).  He then told A “you better pick a new plan of attack.”  Then, the teacher said, it was as if a switch was flipped back and A said “I’m not trying to attack,” and sat down.  This crucial information from the teacher led the school psychologist to say that A’s behavior was a manifestation of his disability.

            After the meeting, the school psychologist told me that she suspects that A may have more issues that ADHD.  A’s mother said in the meeting that she is against medication because he has been on medication in the past and it does not seem to make a difference for him.  The school psychologist wondered if it has not been effective because of the presence of a second disorder, such as Bipolar.  After the meeting, we went back to the elementary school and talked for a while.  I asked her about the differences between working in an elementary school and a high school.  She said that generally, in the elementary school the focus is more on testing and in the high school, there is more counseling.  She is currently counseling LGBT and suicidal students as well as students in need of social skills training.  However, she said she also had to counsel elementary school students when a child passed away.  She said between her schools (I think she said she has 4) someone dies almost every year.  She also said she does not think suicide prevention is emphasized enough in schools and she talked about being called to the Richmond hospital in the middle of the night because one of her students tried to commit suicide.  It was interesting to hear about that since it is easy to forget about the crisis intervention role of our future careers.  As far as benefits and drawbacks of the job, she said she likes that she has so much autonomy.  She gets to schedule her day the way she wants.  However, she said a drawback is that school psychologists are pulled in many directions and will have to decide what to devote time to.  She also said it is easy to feel isolated at times because School Psychologists do not really fit in with the teachers or the office administrators. 

            Overall, I had a fantastic time shadowing.  I loved it because it was so different from the other time I shadowed a school psychologist (this past winter in Loudoun County).  The other school psychologist worked in an elementary school and I saw primarily academic assessment and intervention.  However, today I saw a school psychologist working with adolescents on the psychological aspects of the job.   I would still be interested to see if a middle school is a balance between the typical high school and elementary school roles.