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School Psychology
Program Practice

The programs in School Psychology at the University of South Florida are committed to training professionals who have expertise in the depth and diversity of both psychology and education.  This training is accomplished within a scientist-practitioner model which emphasizes comprehensive school psychological services using a social and cognitive behavioral learning theory orientation that recognizes the impact of children's individual differences.

Scientist-practitioner model

Comprehensive school psychological services

Social and cognitive behavioral learning theory orientation

Individual differences

Who is the school psychologist's client?

The problem-solving process of service delivery

The breadth of school psychology roles, functions, and settings

The importance of field work, experience, and supervision to the training process

Scientist-practitioner model.  This model suggests that there is a set of established methods for producing data to undergird the practice of school psychology, and the best practice of school psychology is based on applications of these data.  Although the program is applied in nature, students study research methods, gain competence in producing scientific data, and study and practice data-based school psychology applications.

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Comprehensive school psychological services.  The program deals with the full range of school psychological practice from (a) prereferral intervention to (b) standardized and curriculum-based assessment to (c) consultation and/or indirect psychoeducational interventions to (d) direct and/or therapeutic psychoeducational interventions to (e) program and service delivery evaluation.  This practice can occur at the individual child level; the teacher or curricular level; the principal, program, or administrative level; or the community, system, or social level.  Finally, school psychological services can be provided at a primary prevention level (addressing educational and mental health problems at a system-wide or community level before they become active problems); at a secondary prevention level (addressing problems in at-risk groups again before they become active and debilitating); and at a tertiary prevention level (where specific problems already exist and need to be solved before additional difficulties occur).

The faculty within the Program recognize that individual psychological evaluation is an important role within school psychology, but that it is not the center of practice.  The center of practice is service delivery-- helping individual students, for example, to remediate and/or compensate for the psychoeducational difficulties that caused them to be first referred or brought to the psychologist's attention.  The evaluation process (i.e., assessment, report writing, conferencing) is only the means toward the intervention that actually helps the student, and/or the system or significant others, to adapt.

Within this context, consultation becomes a critical process and skill.  Because school psychology intervention is predominantly an indirect endeavor (the school psychologist rarely interacts with a student for a full day, every day), consultation processes are the most effective for comprehensive service delivery.  The Program, therefore, is particularly interested in developing consultation, in association with both individual evaluations and general system change, as a major practice within the profession.

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Social and cognitive behavioral learning theory orientation.  While the School Psychology Program recognizes the existence and diversity of many psychological orientations, and the need to be knowledgeable in those orientations, much of the program is based conceptually within the social and cognitive behavioral learning theory orientation.  More specifically, children and adolescents are evaluated within the interacting and interdependent domains of behavior, person variables, and the environment.  Within these domains are emphasized the operant and classical conditioning paradigms of behavior, the cognitive behavioral paradigm of recent research, and the impact of environmental factors on cognitive, behavioral, personality, and social-emotional development.  Beyond this psychological orientation, the program also adheres to a training approach of "technical eclecticism."  This approach recognizes that there are many empirically-tested and successful approaches and interventions that adhere to non-behavioral psychoeducational orientations, and that students should be expert in these approaches and interventions and know when best to use them because they are empirically-tested and successful.

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Individual differences.  Finally, school psychologists must evaluate and be sensitive to persons' individual constitutional, developmental, and environmental make-ups and how these influence educational and social-emotional progress within the school, family, and community setting.  While these individual differences involve socio-cultural, ethnic, and racial differences, they also include student characteristics like temperament, cognitive processing, behavioral dynamics (e.g., locus of control), and cognitive attributions.  The Program emphasizes these individual differences so that students can interact appropriately with their clients as multicultural and multidimensional individuals and so that they can plan the most effective services possible for these individuals.

Beyond these broad conceptualizations that help to organize and guide the Program, a number of other perspectives are integrated into the training model.  These perspectives identify (a) the variability of the school psychologist's client, (b) the need for problem-solving as a fundamental process of service delivery, (c) the breadth of roles, functions, and settings where school psychology can/should be practiced, and (d) the importance of field work, experience, and supervision to the training process.

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Who is the school psychologist's client?  From an advocacy perspective, the individual student in most cases will be the school psychologist's primary client.  However, in some cases, to best serve the child, the school psychologist may interact as a consultant to an individual teacher, a principal, an entire school building or system, or to a broader organization.  Here, service delivery involves not only student programming but also system change.  The School Psychology Program is committed to the perspective of system change especially as educational systems are altered or adapted to fit the individual needs and characteristics of students.  System change is often a difficult, ongoing task, yet it is necessary to maintain the integrity of our educational and mental health systems and their ability to meet the collective and individual needs of children, adolescents, families, and communities.

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The problem-solving process of service delivery.  Regardless of the client, school psychological services are best delivered within a problem-solving model that sequentially involves the following steps:  problem identification, problem analysis, intervention, and evaluation.  Students within the program will learn these steps and their application to all facets of school psychology service delivery.  Ultimately, this problem-solving model will become the foundation of their day-to-day practice and their conceptualization of comprehensive services.

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The breadth of school psychology roles, functions, and settings.  As one of the four identified specialty areas within the profession of psychology, school psychology is comprised of a broad set of knowledge bases and skills which address the psychoeducational development of children and adolescents--especially as they interface with the educational and socialization process.  To that end, school psychology focuses on all school-aged children and adolescents and their psychological/mental health and educational/cognitive progress.  While school psychologists are sometimes limited to special education processes and functions, this is a school/organizational limitation that cheats some children and schools of a full range of school psychological skills.  Even more broadly, school psychological services are not restricted only to school settings; school psychologists practice in hospital settings, developmental and residential centers, community mental health facilities, in business and industry, in correctional facilities, and in university and research settings.  School psychology is grounded in both psychology and education.  It clearly has the advantages of both, but it should not be limited by the restrictions of either.

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The importance of field work, experience, and supervision to the training process.  The Program faculty believe that practicum and internship field experiences are an indispensable part of the development of a well-rounded school psychologist.  The cooperation of several local departments of school psychological services provides continuous field experiences for our students, beginning in the first semester of training.  These experiences assure a strong reality orientation which complements the more formal coursework in the Program.  Close supervision of students is a necessary component of the program, as is ongoing and specific skills-based feedback.  Supervision is also seen as an important skill that school psychologists need in the field.  Thus, supervision training is integrated into the doctoral program as an advanced skill and experience.

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