To Be or Not To Be a School Psychologist

Have you ever found yourself at a cocktail party, getting that polite routine question of, ‘What do you do for a living?’ and being tempted to answer, ‘Oh, I am at the service of special education law. I’m a compliance officer. I’m a testing machine. I am at the beck and call of everyone’. But instead, you smile sweetly and answer, “I’m a school psychologist’.

Have you ever questioned your sanity for choosing the profession of school psychology in moments of sleep deprived despair with ‘This is it! I can’t take this anymore. I’m going to sell tea. Or kayaks’. Or you simply doubt whether you are indeed fit for this job, because how is it that after all you do, after all the sacrifices, parents still yell at you at IEP’s, kids still get expelled despite hours of counseling and behavior interventions, teachers still don’t seem to understand that not every child should be in special education, and administrators still try to tell you what your job really should be.

And yet you continue to give it your all, pressing and plodding along one stressful day after another and tackling each day with renewed drive, energy and passion. No, it cannot possibly be for the money, or the prestige, or a masochistic desire to punish yourself (and those around you) for the rest of your working life. If money and feeding the ego does not do it for you, then what is it.

Perhaps, just perhaps, you stay in this business because being a school psychologist is so much more than a job. It is your calling. Yes, that cliched, esoteric thing – a calling.  It is that thing that compels you to stay the course and do your work with continued passion, grit and determination. That thing that drives this deep commitment with an intense desire to make a difference in your chosen path, with a clear vision about where you want to go. A journey with meaning and purpose.

You alone know what your purpose is, and what brings you meaning within the context of your calling. The source for eliciting those things from your job is actually quite simple: it is you. It is the person you are, intrinsically motivated and guided by your chosen value system. It is you who determine how you approach every aspect of your work life and what you bring, with humility, to the table. It is how you carry yourself, how you communicate, how you do your work.

What keeps fueling your calling and keeps you on track, is seeing the fruit of your efforts in everything you touch and the impact you have on others. The returns are intrinsic to every situation you find yourself in. The affirmation that you are on your path is evident in the way others respond to you. Ironically, you might find yourself in a better position to negotiate matters on your terms and take better control over your tasks. And your, ‘No, I can’t do this, or that’, might just more readily be met with an,’ Ok, I understand’. In short, you discover that in actual fact, you alone might just be the master of your schedule, and no one else. You will discover a new lightness to your work life.

It does take effort. Navigating yourself around others is somewhat of an art, but also easy if it comes from within. Guard your integrity and trustworthiness at all times. Be that very accessible and safe person who embodies kindness, compassion and empathy under all circumstances (even to those you don’t like, or who don’t like you). Be the one that is non-judgmental and opens herself up to really hear and see others. Be the one who gets to know the teachers, the parents, the administrators. The one who builds relationship and makes herself available. And no, best not to be the one who always looks so very important, so very busy and inaccessible. And no, also not the one who constantly needs to remind everyone, ‘I’m not getting paid for this’.

Be that example in how you approach and treat students. Make sure you see them, really see them. That they as human beings do not disappear in the whirlpool of paperwork, legally mandated activities, your busy-ness, meetings, and meetings. That they are not just another case. At the essence of your calling to school psychology is that each and every child that comes on your path deserves the best possible moment with you. Every interaction you have with a child matters and has an impact, however salient. No matter how busy you are, when a child is in your company, he/she needs to have your undivided attention, feel unconditionally accepted, and be in the safest possible emotional environment where they can let their guard down and give you their best, be it during testing, counseling, or whatever the situation might be. And walk away from you, feeling good about themselves. And hoping for another opportunity to be around you.

On the side, but essential to your wellbeing and staying the course, is your tribe. Your means to self-care and sustenance in this business. Your fellow school psychologists. Your trusted friends who just happen to be equipped with therapeutic know-how. Your safe haven where you refuel, encourage and be encouraged, energize and be energized. These are the people who confirm and reassure you that you are where you belong. You are a school psychologist.  

In the end, you yourself are the very instrument in your success as a serving school psychologist with a calling. You are the only one in the position of infusing meaning and passion into your daily walk and craft it according to your parameters, which includes staying in control. Allow the challenges of your profession to shape you, mold you, make you stronger and build an impenetrable resiliency. You are a change agent in the world by the very definition of your chosen career.

Desiree Prins
Licensed Educational Psychologist
I have been a school psychologist for 21 years and also have a private practice.