Reframe: Episode 81

Confronting the Critical Shortage of School Psychologists

Reframe Episode 80

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Across the nation, a shortage of school psychologists is becoming a critical problem for school districts everywhere, especially when suicides and other mental health and trauma-related issues among K-12 students are on the rise.

On this episode, we talk about this understaffed area of education, as well as a plan that’s addressing the ongoing shortage, while also providing the extra support that many schools need.

Additional Resources:

To get involved, visit Miami University’s Department of Educational Psychology.

To learn more about the Hamilton County Educational Service Center, visit

For more info on the shortage, visit the National Association of School Psychologists.

Additional music: Ketsa, “Psychic” and “Better Days Ahead”

Read the transcript

James Loy:

This is Reframe. The podcast from the College of Education, Health and Society on the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.


This story begins with an aspiring school psychologist, who splits his time between schools in Hamilton County, Ohio.

[SFX – Bell Ring, Hallway Sounds, Locker Close.]

He’s helping to support a severely understaffed area of education, to provide a critical service desperately needed in most school districts everywhere, and all while getting the experience he’ll need to soon do the job himself.

Chris Perry:

So I worked in two schools. One of the schools I work in one day a week and the other two days a week. I assist the school psychologist there, try to lighten their workload a little bit. So this past year, I’ve been in schools being a part of team meetings, writing up reports, achievement reports, reports on students’ adaptive behavior that are used to make decisions about their needs and how we're going to deliver services. And a lot of the stuff that I produce is actually used to make important educational decisions.

James Loy:

That’s Chris Perry. He’s a Miami University educational psychology graduate student. During the week, he works directly alongside professional school psychologists to help boost the academic, social, and emotional success of students.

Chris Perry:

I’m being trained to go right into the field, which is a great opportunity for me, and I’m sure that really helps them too, having, eventually, more professionals who are aware of what they do and are qualified to jump right in after their training.

James Loy:

Chris has been placed in these schools by the Hamilton County Educational Service Center -- otherwise known as the ESC for short. He’s part of a new plan to confront the national shortage of school psychologists, which is a critical challenge faced my most school districts today.

Because across the nation, at a time when the number of school psychologists is down, mental health and trauma-related issues among K-12 school-aged youth are up -- and so is the growing concern among parents, teachers, and administrators who are witness to alarming new trends – such as a rise in suicides, and suicidal behaviors among youth, and a rise in other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and ADHD.

But this plan, which involves a partnership between Miami University and the Hamilton County ESC– may provide a way to provide proactive solutions now, and before things get worse. 

[Break 1 – Music]

The National Association of School Psychologists recommends one school psychologist for every 500-700 students. Today, however, the average national ratio is closer to 1:1400, and in some areas it’s almost 1 for every 5,000 students.

Many vacancies left by retiring professionals are just not being filled fast enough, and existing school psychologists are also being outpaced by a steadily increasing influx of new students every year.

This can contribute to burnout, which means some professionals just quit and leave the field altogether.

It also means that those who do stay are often burdened with heavy workloads that prioritize a small number of job functions – often all the evacuation testing and paperwork needed for special education placements, for example, and this can leave little or no time for much else.

Kimberly Jones:

But there are so many duties that a school psychologist performs, that they're certified to do, that they're qualified to do. And we have been really stressing this at our ESC level, and through Miami University, to schools in different districts of the benefits of having school psychs is more than testing. They can do counseling work. They can do support groups. They can work for multiple -- what we call MTSS -- those multiple tier systems of support. So these are just some different examples of what they should be utilizing. Different supports and duties that they can do, that they were not able to do. So a lot of them were getting very siloed. The workload, the stress was really increasing. So a lot we're leaving the field, or not going into the field. So we're teaching a different paradigm shift, or a different perspective, for school districts to utilize these school psychs.

James Loy:

That’s Kimberly Jones, Hamilton County ESC intervention and support services consultant. She says that the much wider and holistic range of mental health and behavior supports that school psychologists are trained to provide can help schools alleviate a host of other dire problems, especially among youth.

Recent CDC reports show that suicidal ideation and behaviors for these students are on the rise. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death among high school-aged students. That’s exceeded only unintentional injuries, by the way.

Social isolation is increasing as well, and so are mood and behavioral disorders like depression, anxiety, and ADHD. Some reports now show that one in five middle and high schoolers now live with a mental health condition. And many of those who never displayed symptoms before are now showing signs of struggle.

Some of that may be COVID related, but not all of it. Even though the Pandemic is now another new battlefront.

Here’s Renee Dallal. She’s currently as a school psychologist, and she’s seeing first-hand what’s it’s like for students today.

Renee Dallal:

There's more kids who need behavioral services, or counseling/trauma services. There's just more of a need for that these days.

James Loy:

So what are some of the biggest issues you see that students are having now that you are trying to help them deal with?

Renee Dallal:

I see a lot of anxiety. I work with a lot of kids who just can't cope with everything that's going on -- whether it be … and that's also definitely increased by the pandemic, and everything that's going on. They can't deal with all of the pressure from school. And the homework. And then going home and having three hours of homework. And then sports, and all the things that are going on. The most amount of kids I see is just they can't cope with their anxiety. And so, I do a lot of anxiety counseling. Some behavior problems for the younger kids. They have trouble regulating their emotions or regulating their bodies. And so, they're just up and they're at them. And they don't know how to kind of calm their bodies, more or less. Body regulation. Emotional regulation. I’m seeing more struggles with that.

James Loy:

But the good news is that by employing a variety of early interventions, risk assessments, counseling, and more, school psychologists are the professionals who are best prepared to help these struggling students. And students who do need help with mental health are far more likely to seek and to receive support if it’s offered in school.

And there are other benefits as well.

The National Association of School Psychologists has also shown that improving the ratio can lead to decreases in teacher stress and teacher burnout, which, in turn, can lead to improved student learning outcomes and teacher retention.

Plus, they can help build and encouraging positive school climates that can help generate overall safer, more welcoming, and productive environments for everyone.

They can do a lot. And some experts – like Dr. Kristy Brann, a Miami University assistant professor of educational psychology, say that just raising this awareness of the field in general is a way to help.

Kristy Brann:

School psychologists are often a hidden role. Because many people aren’t familiar with the term or what we can do. So I think of it as the best kept secret in psychology. And really we need to build awareness for the field, and the dynamic role that we can have in supporting students in schools.

[Break 2 – Music]

James Loy:

The national school psychiatrist shortage is predicted to last through 2025, but plans are in place to turn the tide now.

The partnership between Miami University and the Hamilton County ESC is addressing the issue on several fronts, and in mutually beneficial ways that align with the strategic goals of each organization.

So it’s more than just a win-win. It’s more like a win-win, win-win partnership pipeline

Here’s how it works:

The Hamilton County ESC works directly with schools and districts to provide the specific services that will best serve students in each individual setting. After identifying the school psychologist shortage as a primary pain point, the ESC and Miami’s department of educational psychology came together.

Here’s Kimberly Jones again ….

Kimberly Jones:

We are very pleased to be almost, what I would call, a preferred partner, and we treat Miami as a preferred partner for the ESC. Because it is really growing, and it's been such a great experience to be creative, to come up with new innovative ways in which to help future educators, practitioners, along with most important of all -- serving and meeting the needs of students .

James Loy:

In 2019, Chris Perry became the first Miami graduate student to study coursework at the university, while also, at the same time, receiving comprehensive training and field experience through his ESC school placement.

Since then, the partnership has expanded to include additional educational psychology graduate students, as well as new involvement from Miami’s department of speech pathology.

Beyond just providing the much-needed extra assistance to local schools, the partnership is also increasing the quality and availability of professional development opportunities on all sides.

Specialists employed by the county now offer guest lectures and share their experiences about current practices with Miami college students. On the flip side, Miami faculty can now attend special ESC trainings and state-wide events.

And so far, it’s been a success on every front. Dr. Kristy Brann again:

Kristy Brann:

It's exceeded all of my expectations. Our connection to practice is improved, we're more aligned with state recommendations, and our students are more prepared to take a dynamic and collaborative role. So we're able to embed the training that Hamilton County provides into our classes, rather than it just being something they’ll hear in the field later on. So we can really be proactive in preparing students.

James Loy:

And that’s to help college students connect what they learn in the classroom to what they’ll do after graduation, to close that gap that often exists, correct?

Kristy Brann:

Yes. More focus on applied practice and preparing for the actual job, rather than just the job in theory.

James Loy:

So it’s a win for local schools, which get the extra help and support they desperately need. It’s a win for the ESC, which can rely on Miami to expand its recruitment pool. It’s a win for the university, which improves its professional development, training opportunities, and course quality.

And it’s a big win for the college students, who get the kind of experiences that can lead to a job right after graduation, and who also get a much better understanding of all the different ways they can help more young students succeed and thrive 

Chris Perry:

It's a helping profession and I've always really wanted to go into something that had to do with the societal aims of making the world a better place. And with children, it's just always a different day -- a different experience every day -- that I really appreciate, while also working along with the societal grander goals of trying to make the world a better place.

James Loy:

We want to thank the Hamilton County Educational Service Center for their help with this story, and if you would like to learn more about getting involved withing the field of School Psychology, visit Miami’s department of education psychology at