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What Is a School Psychologist?

Let's see what the students think  

This piece was adapted from Notes From the School Psychologist, the blog of Dr. Rebecca Bell Branstetter, a school psychologist in the San Francisco Bay area.

By Dr. Rebecca Bell Branstetter

Our profession is a difficult one to explain. When I tell people I'm a school psychologist, I often get "Oh, you're a counselor!" Then, in order to avoid taking up that person's hour with all the roles of a school psychologist, I simply say, "Kind of! But more like if a counselor and a teacher had a baby. And that baby grew up and helped figure out what is getting in the way of learning for students and works with students, parents, and teachers to develop and implement a plan." And since knowing your strengths is so important, I should add that I help figure out not only what is getting in the way of learning but what is helping learning, too.

I asked my lovely Facebook Page school psychologists what kids have said about what it is we do. Here's a sample of the responses I love.

  • You're the lady that reads people's minds! 
  •  The one who comes in and takes kids when they don't do their work.
  • One of my kiddos I tutor told me that I was the person who "made sure she wasn't forgotten".
  • School psychs "do plans to help kids." 
  • One kid asked me if I could move things with my mind.
  • "They 'testis' kids with the 'Wiscer' 4."
  • I asked my 6 year old son: "They be nice to each other every night and they do nice kind things for kids and teachers. Ya know - that kinda stuff."
  • Several third graders recently asked the learning specialist, "Who is that girl?" (referring to me). She said, "Oh, that is the school psych." and one kid said, "Oh, the person who digs up bones?" and then the other kid said, "The school psychopath? I didn't know our school had one of those!" She came to tell me this later - it totally made my day. Sometimes I feel like the school psychopath... :)
  • :)I've had a preschool boy say "Hello, Officer" to me several times this week. It must have been the Teacher—I mean School Psych—Look I gave him when he was acting out during nap time a few days earlier. :)
  • I had students obviously trying to discuss and decide who I was, then one asked, "You're a spy aren't you?!"
  • One time I had a few kids refer to me as being with the FBI because I kept "snooping" around in their classroom taking notes and observing everyone
  • The answer I get most often is "they help people." Yes, we do!
  • Several times kids asked me if I owned the school. =)
  • "Helps special needs kids and helps out teachers when they need a little help"—says my savvy son!
  • The "brain teacher." :)
  • I have been called the "behavior police" and the "thumbs up lady" :)
  • I've heard kiddos say that our school psychologist's job is: "to type on the computer all day" and "the school counselor's assistant"
  •  I had a kid tell me last year I was, "The lady for when you're sad."

And my personal favorite:

  • "The teacher that walks around the school!"

So as you are walking around the school, feel proud of all the things you do—spy, help, dig up bones, type, teach about the brain, own the school, and give the Wiscer 4! Or keep it simple...as one of my kiddos said when I asked what a school psychologist does, "I don't know, but I think they love kids."

Indeed.

Dr. Rebecca Bell Branstetter is a Clinical Psychologist and Licensed Educational Psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area. She specializes in psychoeducational assessment and therapy with children, adolescents, and young adults.

Published: December 4, 2012

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