4 ways schools are coping with psychologist shortages

Some teachers unions are demanding more psychologists, counselors and other support staff
By: | November 22, 2019
While school communities rally for additional mental health care in schools, district administrators are looking for ways to hire more psychologists and counselors.While school communities rally for more mental health care in schools, district administrators are looking for ways to hire more psychologists and counselors.

Calls are increasing nationwide for district administrators to add more psychologists and other mental health counselors to treat growing numbers of students dealing with anxiety, suicidal thoughts, fears of school shootings, and other weighty issues.

Teachers striking in Chicago included demands for more staff to help students with physical and mental healthThe New York Times reported earlier this month.

The union is now pressing Chicago Public Schools to hire more counselors, health workers and librarians, according to The Times. 

More from DA: Educators attack anxiety in all grades 

InNevada’s Clark County School District, the psychologist-to-student ratio is 1-to-2,2000, though the national recommendation is one psychologist for every 500 to 700 students, Nevada Public Radio reported.

Counselors and social workers have filled some of the gaps in meeting with students.

“But even both of those professions are terribly short-staffed and so we just do the best that we can and we also try to help train our school staff in recognizing signs of depression or concerns so they’re brought to us when they need to be,” Stephanie Patton, president-elect of the Nevada Association of School Psychologists, told Nevada Public Radio.

In Texas, teachers and parents in Fort Bend ISD have asked to have students tested for special education. And though administrators welcome this development, they say they don’t have enough school psychologists to perform the required evaluations, Houston Public Media reported.

Fort Bend ISD has offered psychologists a $5,000 signing bonus and a retention bonus, but still has nine vacancies, according to Houston Public Media.

“It’s a heavy weight but we are a really proactive and innovative group,” Jennifer Byrne, the district’s assistant director for special education, told Houston Public Media. “We’ve constantly been trying to find ways to make our internship program better so that we can retain as many school psychologists that are out there.”

More from DA: Student mental health days reduce stigma

Districts are working to hire more psychologists and counselors, but administrators are also training more teachers and staff members to spot signs of distress in studentsDistrict Administration reported earlier this year.

They are also trying to make students more aware of treatment services. For example, the phone number for a suicide hotline is printed on every student’s ID badge in the Tempe Union High School District in Arizona. Teachers have been trained to spot and respond to mental health warning signs in students, and administrators don’t use euphemisms when discussing the topic.

“We can’t tiptoe around the word ‘suicide’ by saying someone ‘took their life’—it’s death by suicide, and we have to call it what it is, as harsh as it sounds,” Superintendent Kevin Mendivil, told DA. “It resonates when it’s verbalized by a caring adult because it’s what’s going on in kids’ heads.”

More administrators now rely on psychologists to assess any student who may pose a threat to the school, DA reported in February.

“Develop intervention teams and talk to local school resource officers about what kids are doing in the neighborhood,” Alvin Gille, the health, safety and security coordinator at Great Oaks Career Campuses in Ohio, told DA“You get a broader look at a student in crisis so that they don’t become a villain and a perpetrator.”

More from DA: Virtual students train teachers in suicide prevention