We all remember this old kid’s joke:
“Q: When is a door, not a door?”
“A: “When it’s ajar (a jar, get it).”
Sadly, today’s title is no joke.
Q: When is a psychologist, not a psychologist?
A: When they’re a school psychologist.
Behind the eligibility gates of special education lie riches beyond measure: appropriate educational placements, adequate services, necessary and effective accommodations. If those don’t sound like “riches beyond measure” you must not be a special needs parent. But, guarding those gates is the school psychologist. A highly-trained professional with only your child’s best interest at heart, or are they?
While they will never tell you this, school psychologists usually aren’t “real” psychologists. And by “real,” I mean they are not Licensed Psychologists. What is the difference, and why should you care? Because the difference may mean everything to your child’s hopes for the future.
California requirements for a school “psychologist”:
- A baccalaureate degree or higher, except in professional education, from a regionally-accredited college or university
- Complete post-baccalaureate degree study consisting of a minimum of 60-semester units in a California Commission-approved professional preparation program specializing in school psychology, including a practicum with school-aged children
- Obtain the recommendation of a California college or university with a Commission-approved Pupil Personnel Services program specializing in school psychology. This process will result in the college or university submitting the recommendation online.
California requirements to be a licensed clinical psychologist:
- A doctorate degree in psychology, educational psychology, education with a field of specialization in counseling psychology or education with a field of specialization in educational psychology from an approved or accredited educational institution.
- Complete two years (3,000 hours) of supervised professional experience, at least 1,500 of which must be completed post-doctorally.
- California Psychology Licensing Law requires all applicants to take and pass the national Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) and the California Psychology Laws and Ethics Examination (CPLEE).
A School “psychologist” in California makes $60,000-$75,000 annually, while a licensed psychologist salary is in the $125,000 range and a pediatric neuropsychologist may make upwards of $250,000. Perhaps more important is what a school “psychologist” can’t do: they are not permitted to diagnose or treat a medical or mental health condition (Autism, ADHD, Bipolar, Depression, General Anxiety Disorder, etc.); and they can’t practice outside of a school setting. In short, they aren’t actually psychologists by education, training, or licensing. Many school evaluations are designed purely to determine eligibility (with a bias towards finding ineligibility), are usually cookie cutter, conducted over one or two days, and seldom contain any meaningful recommendations for appropriate placement, services, or accommodations.
Fortunately, the law provides a remedy. If you disagree with the assessments conducted by the school, you have a right to have an Independent Educational Evaluation (“IEE”) by a “real” psychologist of your choosing. The law recognizes the disparity between a school district and parents and provides this right to level the playing field. Your child has a right to have a real expert on their side. Because, sometimes a psychologist, isn’t a psychologist. Don’t settle for an imitation.
And, that’s no joke.