What Does an Education Counselor or School Psychologist Do?

An education counselor is a mental health professional who works exclusively with school-aged children and adolescents in an educational setting. Their work consists of counseling kids who are experiencing stress or other hardships that might interfere with their schoolwork. They might identify and work with kids who are being bullied at school or abused at home. Education counselors can also help students overcome acute difficulties such as test anxiety or even a crippling social anxiety that is interfering with friendships and a full life. Where school helps students develop their intellect, a counselor helps them develop in more personal ways.

What Age Groups Do They Work With?

Education counselors and school psychologists can work with any age student, from kindergarten through college. While most work in a school, such as a middle school, there are others who operate in private practice. Parents might identify a learning problem and then seek out a psychologist or talk to their child’s school counselors, who can then help their child address the underlying issues that prevent them from succeeding in school and/or their social life.

For those who work in a school, their office might be located adjacent to the school nurse. Psychologists who work at colleges or universities are likewise integrated into the campus healthcare system. Since college students have more flexibility in their schedules, college counselors and psychologists often schedule their sessions much like they would for anyone in the wider, non-student community. Since they help so many students, a college campus Psychologist very often becomes a vital member of the campus community.

Why Do We Need Education Counselors?

Education counselors are a vital part of any school. They not only help students overcome academic, social, and behavioral problems, but they can also work with teachers who help these students. From time to time, teachers may need to be aware of a certain student's needs or perhaps their own methods need adjustment for the good of their students. Since school is designed to be a safe space for students, the counselor can also help kids deal with many types of problems.

Since teachers are mandated to report any suspicion of abuse, when they suspect that a student is the victim of abuse they often first consult with the counselor before making any kind of accusation or report. The counselor can then seek out the student to address those concerns. If a child is experiencing abuse from an adult, or other children, the counselor can take over and see that the child has access to the proper resources.

Education counselors can also conduct testing to ascertain whether a student has a learning disability. Their testing can also help determine a child's relative academic talent, either in terms of their IQ or how they learn and then see that their needs are met accordingly. For instance, an exceptionally bright student may be sent to the counselor for behavior problems only to discover that they are bored with curriculum that they are ready to move past. The counselor can then recommend a gifted program or advise the school to advance the child to the next grade level where they will find the challenges they need to fully engage at school.

What Issues Might Education Counselors Deal With?

Education counselors deal with all sorts of issues, including those that non-school psychologists address. School kids bring them all sorts of problems that range from test anxiety to anger management. However, since they work in the school setting, they take particular care to address matters that relate to learning and intellectual development. They can work with special education students to create individual education programs (IEPs) that address not only academics but their personal growth and development. They can also consult with gifted and talented students to ensure that they are receiving the proper challenges.

Education counselors can also help the school address issues related to bullying. Since kids not only face bullying from their peers at school but also bullying online, counselors learn to identify the signs that a student might be receiving threats or other harassment via electronic media. These issues can impact how well a student is able to focus on their schoolwork as well as their personal life.

Occasionally, education counselors encounter a child who is dealing with abuse at home. They can help the child cope with the trauma while also finding them appropriate resources from outside agencies, such as Child and Family Services. In this way, a school psychologist can be a real lifesaver to the students that they serve.

How to Become an Education Counselor

Education

Bachelor’s

A bachelor’s degree is a terrific place for an education counselor to start their career. While they won't be able to work as a psychologist with this degree, they can study psychology as part of a teacher training program and enter the education field as a teacher. In fact, a teacher doesn't need to study psychology in their undergraduate program, but certain courses may be helpful. The following courses may be required, but students who aspire to be an education counselor should consider them as electives, if not part of a major or minor:

  • Human Development
  • Exceptional Child
  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Interviewing and Counseling
  • Introduction to Sociology

After completing an undergraduate degree, students can enter the world of education as a teacher and gain experience. After a few years, they can consider returning to school for a master’s degree. Where possible, it will be helpful to focus their continuing education courses on matters pertinent to counseling such as issues related to social work, bullying, human development, etc.

Master’s

Educational professionals can only work as school psychologists with a minimum of a master’s degree in most states. There are three degree types that can be used to qualify for the profession: Master of Arts, Master of Science, and an MEd. The standard degree will require a minimum of 60 graduate-level semester hours, or 90 quarter hours. Students will need to pursue a 1200-hour internship with a minimum of 600 hours of that time spent in a school setting. This level of degree might also be used in private practice, depending on state regulations. State regulations may especially apply to the terms of the internship program and students should always be aware of their state's licensure requirements, which are always subject to change. Along the way to attaining a degree, students may take courses that include, but are not limited to:

  • Child-Family Interventions
  • Professional Ethics
  • Law and Special Education
  • Clinical Supervision
  • Principles of School Psychology
  • Measurement & Assessment
  • Psychological Research and Statistics

Doctorate

While a doctorate is not a requirement for education counselors, the added academic training often garners advanced pay to match the added expertise. A doctoral degree can also be helpful for those who wish to enter private practice or who wish to write and publish as part of their careers. The advanced degree will elevate one's status and perhaps even the chances of publication. There are three degree types that education counselors can earn: PhD, PsyD (Doctor of Psychology), and EdD (Doctor of Education). For each of these, students will need to complete a minimum of 90 graduate semester hours, which takes approximately 5 to 6 years of full-time study. Prior to licensure, aspiring education counselors should also complete 1200-1500 hours of supervised work under a licensed professional, 600 of which should be in a school setting. However, some programs require up to 2000 hours.

Along the way to a doctoral degree in education counseling, students will take courses that can include, but are not limited to:

  • Cognition and Behavior
  • Counseling Diverse Populations
  • Developmental Psychopathology
  • Educational Statistics
  • Grant Writing
  • Academic and Behavioral Intervention
  • Counseling Skills

Experience

Prior to licensure, all counselors must complete the experiential learning portion of the licensure requirements. This applies to all counselors, whether they intend to work as education counselors, school psychologists, clinical social workers, or counselors/psychologists. School psychologists must complete a minimum of 1200 hours of supervised counseling work, 600 of which must be completed in a school setting. It should be noted that some states may require more or less hours, but students are responsible to know what those requirements are.

This experiential learning process should be conducted under the auspices of a state licensed professional who can sign off on the duties performed, the hours logged, and other notes pertinent to licensure. In fact, it is vital that a student's supervisor be licensed and in good standing. An internship might be rendered moot if the supervisor is not fully credentialed by their state. However, this is rarely the case, as students are frequently paired with supervisors by their graduate or doctoral program.

Sometimes professionals wish to change their licensure to work with a different population or to add a new specialization. This sort of change will likely require more study, a licensure examination, and perhaps another experiential learning course.

Exam

Everyone within the education profession must take an examination, and school psychologists are no exception. While not every state requires it, many do insist that candidates for an educational counseling license pass a PRAXIS exam. The school psychologist exam (#5402) assures hiring principals that the applicant has a minimum understanding of the field and its expectations. The largest portion of the test covers Foundations of School Psychological Service (32%) and the next largest portion covers Professional Practices (30%). Direct and Indirect Services for Children comprises 23% and the remaining 15% covers Systems-Level Services.

Note that not every state requires that applicants take the PRAXIS School Psychologist exam and many seem to be dropping the requirement. However, each state is different and it's thus vital that all aspiring counselors investigate their state's rules regarding licensure.

Licensure

Licensure is a mandatory part of life for an education counselor. In order to practice, every counselor needs to complete at least a qualifying, master’s degree from an accredited graduate program. State licensing boards often specify one or more accrediting agencies that they will accept. State boards may also require an internship and perhaps an examination.

Those who seek to practice without first meeting these qualifications can find themselves facing criminal penalties. Practicing without a license can bring consequences that include jail time, fines, and permanent banishment from the profession. However, some are able to petition their state licensing agency and work to regain their credentials.

For those with legal credentials, it is vital to maintain them. Not only must licensed professionals meet performance requirements at work, but they should also maintain their continuing education units as required by their state. Often the required number of hours is 20 per year, but each state is unique.

Where Do Education Counselors Work?

Education counselors most often work in a typical public-school setting such as an elementary school, middle school, or high school. They usually have their own offices where they counsel students one-on-one, though they can also invite parents or others to the sessions. However, due to budgetary restraints, some school psychologists rotate among several schools. A single counselor might maintain multiple offices across a school district.

School psychologists can also work in private practice. These professionals might maintain connections with small private schools, including charter schools that are unable to pay a full-time counselor. They can also forge relationships with preschools in order to service that population. Those in private practice often charge the parents directly or charges their insurance plan.

There are also psychologists who work for colleges or universities. They most often work under the auspices of the school health system and they see students in a very similar way that a non-school psychologist sees young adults.

Salary

According to Payscale.com, school psychologists and education counselors earn an average salary of over $62,000. That salary tends to cap at around $75,000. However, each school district has its own pay scale and each state rewards advanced degrees slightly differently. It's therefore difficult to determine a true average salary. For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that School and Career Counselors earn an average salary of $57,000 per year. However, psychologists who work in private practice are shown to earn an average salary that exceeds $80,000.

While education counselors who work in public schools, and even certain colleges, have great job security, stable pay, and summers off, they can also choose to enter private practice and boost their salary. These professionals have other options as well, including educational consulting and teaching at the secondary or post-secondary level.

Outlook

The occupational outlook for this career sector is looking quite rosy. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), School and Career Counselors are slated to see an overall rise of 8% between 2019 and 2029. The agency projects that 26,000 new counselors will join the profession and characterizes this rise as much faster than average. By comparison, psychologists who work outside of education are projected to only increase their numbers by 3% in the same ten-year span, which the BLS characterizes as fast as average.