Dear Abby (If Abby was a School Psychologist)

I have received several emails since starting my blog, mostly from budding young school psychologists or those interested in school psychology as a career. I can’t believe sometimes that my blog doesn’t scare them away from the profession. I had the same feeling when I had interns who wanted to continue working in the school district after an entire year of my tutelage and snarky advice (imagine my blog, uncensored).

Here’s an excerpt from one potential school psychologist (sans identifying info):

Dear Dr. Bell,

As a student considering a career in school psychology, reading your blog has been a real treat.* While there’s plenty of general information out there on what a school psychologist is, and what they do, I’ve found few first person accounts of what it’s like to be a practitioner. So, I was wondering if you might be able to answer a question or two, and offer a little advice.

First, I keep hearing school psychologists complain about the mountains of paperwork they’re required to complete for state and federal regulations. While I’m no fan of paperwork, I think I could handle it as long as I wasn’t expected to complete it on my own time (take-home work). Are school psychologists swamped with hours of take-home paperwork?

Second, and this is more of an opinion question, but do you think a successful school psychologist must, as you claim to, really love school?

And is there anything else you would tell someone considering becoming a school psychologist? Any warnings or encouragement?

I look forward to hearing back from you, and I’ll keep reading your blog,

Potential School Psychologist

My response to young PSP:

Yes. There is a lot of paperwork. Paperwork includes writing behavior support plans, sometimes writing behavior goals for IEP meetings, and documenting basically everything you do in some fashion (e.g. phone logs, case notes, logs for the state, logs for Medi-cal reimbursement, logs for the school district). However, I’d say the bulk of the paperwork is in the form of psychoeducational report writing.

Yes, you may be expected in the school district culture to bring it home, in order to meet timelines (60 calendar days from referral to IEP). So there are really two options: become super-crazy-efficient or take it home. Many school psychologists write reports over the weekends. I do not take any paperwork home if I can help it. If I am not meeting my timelines, I ask for help.

In our field, it is my opinion that if you don’t find a balance, then you will burn out. The traditional “prioritizing” rules (e.g. do what’s important first!) do not apply in school psychology. How can you say one kid is more important than the next? This job is endless. As long as there are children in your school, you will never be done with work for the day, and no amount of working on the weekend will change that.

That being said, I used to do paperwork all weekend, all the time, when I first started out, because a) I was learning and was not that efficient yet, b) I had not established my own personal work/home boundaries (apparently, a very “Gen Y” worker thing to do) and c) I wanted to impress my supervisors. But I almost left the profession at the end of my first year, and was a giant stress-ball.

Now, I have found a pretty good balance. If I am finding myself doing a lot of work at home, I consult with my supervisor about how to manage the workload. Most supervisors understand we have too high of a caseload and can find you help from other psychologists who aren’t as pushed at the moment. The flip side is true too. If you are in a lull, you can volunteer to help those who are drowning in cases.

Of course, there are crunch-time cases that require working extra, no matter what boundary you’d like to have. One cannot simply show up to an IEP without findings!

In response to your last question, I do love school, but I don’t think it’s a pre-requisite. Many psychologists I’ve worked with hated school and got into the field to make children’s schooling easier/more fun. You should probably love being around people, quirks and all, and definitely love children though!

Best of luck to you,

Rebecca

*I swear I didn’t add that myself! (Insert Sally Field’s voice from Oscars: You like me! You really like me!)

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