Psychology Topics > School Psychology


School Psychology, as the name infers, is a specific branch of psychology that treats and diagnoses children and adolescents with learning, behavioral, or developmental problems in the school setting. School psychologists are also trained to assess children using intelligence and or behavioral tests such as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test and Conners 3 (a test for ADHD).

Historically, school psychology spans from reform to child labor laws up to psychologists advocating for stricter ethical guidelines for teachers and administrators. Key figures such as Frank Parsons, the founder of vocational psychology, and Lightner Witmer, the founder of school psychology, believed that children and adolescents had unique strengths and just needed direction and help in order to become successful adults. The progressive movement was also an important factor in the beginning of school psychology. Progressive groups also pushed for vocational guidance to be implemented in the schools. They believed that if adolescents were trained and prepared to enter the workforce, the crime rate would decrease and there would be less homeless people wandering the streets.

School psychologists today use career counseling and behavioral/intelligence assessments in schools. They try to identify children with learning disorders early so teachers can address their specific needs. Besides counseling, school psychologists occasionally visit the children's classes in order to teach about communication, conflict resolution, and emotional health.

Key Figures & Theories

Frank Parsons is considered the founder of vocational/career counseling, one of the main tasks of high school counselors today. He believed adolescents needed guidance in choosing an occupation, and assistance in getting a proper education so they would be prepared to enter that field as adults. Parsons developed a plan for vocational counseling and worked with groups such as the YMCA, a group for adolescent boys that taught various vocational classes such as law and bookkeeping. He also sketched a counseling training program at the YMCA and proposed that young men be taught principles of vocational counseling so they work in schools, associations, businesses, and universities throughout the United States.

Lightner Witmer is noted as the founder of school psychology. He began by starting the world's first psychological clinic in 1896 that marked the beginning of counseling psychology. One of his early cases that influenced his interest in child development, involved a 14 year old boy he referred to as Charles. Though Charles was relatively smart with no signs of retardation, he could not read. Witmer found Charles' case to be quite complex, a condition now known as dyslexia. His was the first documented case of its kind.

Witmer continued treating children and advocating for them throughout his career. Many of the children Witmer treated were referred through the school system because of their symptoms of hyperactivity, learning and or speech difficulties. As the clinic became more widely known, he began to see children with other symptoms such as seizures, brain injury, and what he termed "nervousness" i.e. anxiety. Witmer believed that children were individuals that possessed unique strengths and weaknesses. He professed that counselors were to help children by identifying the problem quickly and then treating it rather than continuing to search for causes.

Granville Stanley Hall, the founder of the child-study movement, was also an important force for school psychology. In contrast to the theories of today, Hall saw children as savages that grew in stages to become more civilized as they developed- a type of Darwinian evolution through life. He was against the individualism and believed it would lead to the fall of the nation. To prevent this, he thought children should be indoctrinated and not encouraged to express opinions. He had no sympathy for the poor or otherwise afflicted but believed in theories of natural selection.

On a more positive note, however, Hall did emphasize the study of children and adolescents. He also stressed the importance of matching the curriculum to the developmental needs of the children. In one of his more important publications, "Adolescence" (1904), Hall described in detail the physiological developmental changes that occurred from childhood through adolescence. He believed that within man was the ability to reach perfection and an important factor in an individual's evolutionary stages was adolescence. It was Hall that illustrated through his studies and observations where a "normal" child should be developmentally at each age.

Another key figure of childhood development, Arnold Gesell, focused mainly on infant and preschool age development. He wanted to observe children in their natural environment via one-way mirrors and motion-picture cameras. He believed a psychologist's main focus should be on development rather than searching out psychopathology. Nevertheless, Gesell did contribute vastly to the understanding of childhood disorders and brain injury. Contrary to Stanley Hall, Gesell advocated for humane treatment of children in schools and specialized programs for handicapped children. Gesell used developmental assessments and tests to identify these children.

Binet & Simon are best known for their intelligence assessment for French school age children and also adults. The "Binet-Simon" assessment resulted in a score called "mental age" which expressed development compared with average scores of children in the same age group. If the age was lower than the normal range, the child was thought to have some type of mental retardation while the higher scores identified those children who were considered "gifted."

Lewis Terman and Henry Goddard brought the Binet-Simon assessment to the United States, translated it, and converted it for use in the schools there. This test has since been changed again and is now known as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale.