Open (Unanswered ) Letter From Graduate School Psychologist

Hello Everyone,

I hope that you all do not mind if I do not share my name because I want to have a real conversation without any judgements. I recently received my PhD in school psychology from an APA-accredited program. In addition, I completed my internship at an APA-accredited site. I wanted to complete my postdoctoral fellowship immediately following internship, but decided to take a school psychology position because the pay was much better. Besides, I need to pay off some school loans and take care of my family. Therefore, I did not apply for a postdoc this year. Yet, I would like to apply next year.

I was really interested in the postdoctoral pediatric psychology training programs but felt like I really could not apply because most programs either required a degree in clinical or counseling psychology and/or an internship in a hospital. I met neither of these requirements. I completed a practicum experience in the hospital but it seems that does not count. Even though my dissertation was on a health-related topic, I am not certain that will get me in the door.

At the doctoral level, school psych students have to be exposed to pretty much the same type of education and training as the other fields (at least I thought) and we have to know additional information about the school systems. Is there something that the other programs are getting that we do not get? Or, is there a perception that we are not getting enough training? If so, what can I do at this late time to be considered a candidate for a pediatric psychology fellowship? Or the programs and/or training directors not communicating with each other about what graduate students in the three program areas are learning and being trained to do in the field?

Should students in school psychology programs not accept internships in the school setting because it could keep them from being trained in other settings later on? With the shortage of internship positions, you cannot be too picky. What site you end up in is the luck of the draw. I did not know when I selected school psychology that it would seem so limiting. I actually thought that it was all encompassing because we have access to the kids and the adults in their lives like no other setting. In fact, I am very proud of this degree. However, I think that people trained in other program areas have a limited perspective of what we have been trained to do.

The other thing that I am noticing is the trend towards requiring a 2-year postdoc. In fact, a couple of months ago, I even noticed a position requiring a 3-year commitment. While this may seem nice, the pay remains below $40,000 for most of these positions even after the first year. After years of being in school and accumulating student debt, I was hoping that there would be some financial relief after receiving the PhD and completing the one year postdoc experience. Is there some change in the field in terms of the thinking that perhaps an internship and a 1-year postdoc are not sufficient to do the work of a professional psychologist? I know that students are not always at the table when these decisions are made, but if someone can speak to this it would be appreciated.

In the meantime, I will be working as a school psychologist which only requires a masters-level degree and will make close to $80,000. I know it is not about the money, but when you have school loans to pay it kind of boils down to it. So, if anyone can speak to this trend towards longer training and the benefits to the trainees, I would appreciate it. I’m sure there is more from the perspectives of training sites that I am not aware of because I am not there yet.




3 years ago

First, let me say I empathize with your situation. I have a similar situation in that I attended a non-APA-accredited program. While my internship was APA-accredited and I am licensed in my state, many agencies, namely Federal agencies, to include the VA, will not accept my credentials as meeting their standards to provide competent treatment. In other words, they seem to think there is something special about an APA-accredited program that makes other professionals sub-par regardless of the quality of program, subsequent internship, or any other training. This gets to your question, somewhat I think. I can understand the VA, for example, wanting to show the public that they only accept the “cream of the crop” to provide services to our Veterans. While I personally believe I am just as qualified to provide services to veterans, and do in my private practice, those responsible to the public for making decisions about the quality of care for patients/clients are somewhat justified in taking a conservative view of training preparation. So, while all US-trained doctoral-level psychologists may have the same or similar general training in psychology, there is a need to insure psychologists have the specialized training in the area they are going to be working. With the field of psychology being so large, they is absolutely no way one program can adequately train one future psychologist, let alone a whole cohort, in all psychological areas to provide services to all potential clients in all potential settings. I am a clinical psychologist with over 10 years experience, but beyond assessments, I really don’t know what a school psychologist does or why a doctorate is even needed. I’m know there is a reason, so I’m not saying there isn’t. I’m just saying I don’t have the knowledge or training to have a good understanding (beyond a basic academic understanding) of what a school psychologist does. While I have done some I/O stuff, my experience in this area came more from hands-on experience that I lucked into and trained myself on, than from my training program. The branch of psychology closest to mine is counseling psychology. I have worked with numerous counseling psychologists and know that even with the great overlap, the emphasis during our formal training is different. So one’s specific training in our field has a lot of weight with internship and post-doc training sites. This helps to understand, I think, how sites sort through applicants. Further, the push to create highly specialized clinicians, much like in medicine, helps explain why we are seeing post-doc training programs being extended. It also helps the organizations from a financial standpoint, especially if they can get post-doc interns for a longer period of time while keeping costs down.

I doubt this resolves your concern, but hopefully you can find something useful from my point of view. Feel free to contact me if I can ever be of assistance with anything. Best of luck.


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