Program Philosophy & Practice

Program Philosophy

Psychologists respect the dignity and worth of each individual and strive for the preservation and protection of fundamental human rights. They are committed to increasing knowledge of human behavior as well as people's understanding of themselves and others and to the utilization of such knowledge for the promotion of human welfare. 

While pursuing these objectives, they make every effort to protect the welfare of those who seek their services and of the research participants that may be the object of their studies. 

Psychologists use their skills only for purposes consistent with these values and do not knowingly permit their misuse by others. While demanding for themselves freedom of inquiry and communication, psychologists accept the responsibility this freedom requires: competence, objectivity in the application of skills, and concern for the best interests of clients, colleagues, students, research participants, and society (Preamble, Ethical Principles of Psychologists, American Psychological Association, 1981).

The School Psychology Program at USF embraces these principles by teaching them, modeling them, and passing them on to our graduates to guide their professional practices. Three primary components that comprise the broader philosophy of the School Psychology Program include a commitment to:

Commitment to Advocacy and Respect for Individual Differences

The School Psychology Program encourages a special sensitivity to the social foundations and the cultural diversities of all people, and a special respect for the uniqueness and human dignity of all individuals. Within this context, advocacy is emphasized as a conscious philosophy and activity whereby school psychologists help others to know, understand, and attain their legal, educational, moral, and individual rights.

Initially, advocacy may involve students and their parents. Yet, individual advocacy often involves systemic and community-wide foci and change. The School Psychology Program is committed to a comprehensive, system-wide focus and orientation where mental health and educational services are not just school-based, but family and community-based; where mental health and educational services are not just based on students' brief educational careers, but on their lifetimes and the lifetimes of their children that they so critically influence.

Commitment to Empirical Knowledge and Professional Competency

The School Psychology Program is dedicated to teaching professional practices that have been empirically demonstrated as effective and socially valid, and to the pursuit of new knowledge through sound research practices. While this entails an ability to understand human and research problems in the ecological environments where they occur, this philosophy suggests that school psychologists are able to determine and predetermine the variables and circumstances that cause certain programs and interventions to succeed or fail, to protect their clients from procedures and practices that make inappropriate or exaggerated claims, and to evaluate all aspects of service delivery to determine that the most effective and efficient approaches are being implemented at all times.

Within this context, the School Psychology Program is committed to training students who are professionally competent in their knowledge of best empirical practices, their ability to implement and evaluate those practices, and their dedication to research and the development of new empirical practices. This is an ongoing process; thus, the program also encourages a perspective of professional development and training through continuing education activities after graduation.

Commitment to Self-Awareness and Ethical Practice

The School Psychology Program encourages and reinforces students' abilities to be aware of the personal and professional skills that influence and ensure sound psychological practice. We are committed to evaluating students' knowledge and skill, and their interpersonal skills and interactions. Evidence of accomplishment in both of these areas is necessary for professional practice and, therefore, for graduation.

Concurrent with one's interpersonal skills is one's commitment and ability to practice in an ethical manner. The School Psychology program adheres to the ethical standards and principles of both the American Psychological Association and the National Association of School Psychologists, and adheres to the philosophy that ethical practice is the only acceptable approach to professional training and service delivery.

Just as the Program integrates these philosophical commitments into every facet of training, it practices them amongst its faculty and within the training process. The program and its faculty are:

  1. Committed to advocating for all students in the program in any way possible to facilitate quality training, personal and professional growth, and effective services for the clients they will eventually serve.
  2. Mindful of their responsibility to model respect for students' individual differences and to recognize students' individual strengths, weaknesses, assets, and limitations through individual programming and attention where necessary.
  3. Committed to training that is based in the empirical literature, to their own research programs that provide students with practical experience and thesis and dissertation opportunities, and to their own professional competency both in the classroom and in the field; and
  4. Committed to their own personal and professional development and awareness, and to a training process that always exemplifies sound ethical judgment and practice.

To facilitate this process and exemplify these commitments, the following statement has become a cornerstone to describe the essence of USF's School Psychology Program:

Our Commitment to Students

The faculty is dedicated to producing highly trained school psychologists through the use of positive techniques. This positive approach can be seen in the following policies and procedures: 

  • A thorough admission procedure that results in the selection of outstanding students. This facilitates a faculty commitment to do everything possible to guide each student to a high level of professional competence and success. 
  • A curriculum that is well organized and explicit so that students are always aware of program expectations and their progress in relation to these expectations.
  • A student body that is kept small, resulting in greater student-faculty contact than would otherwise be possible.
  • Skills of practice that are developed through a non-threatening apprenticeship network established with local school systems. This model encourages the student to "assist" several professors and practicing school psychologists throughout her/his training. This provides positive environments, containing rich feedback, in which competent psychological skills develop.
  • Research guidelines that are established for the purpose of reducing the anxiety and ambiguity so often associated with research efforts. The goal is to increase the probability that thesis research will be a positive experience while producing quality data with reasonable energy expenditure.

Program Practice

The School Psychology program at USF is 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. The model uses a social and cognitive behavioral learning theory orientation that recognizes the impact of children's individual differences. 

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.

Comprehensive school psychological service

The program deals with the full range of school psychological practice including subject areas such as:

  • Prereferral intervention to
  • Standardized and curriculum-based assessment
  • Consultation and/or indirect psychoeducational interventions
  • Direct and/or therapeutic psychoeducational interventions
  • Program and service delivery evaluation.

This practice can occur at the individual child level, the teacher or curricular level. It can also occur at the principal, program, or administrative level as well as at the community, system, or social level. 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), or 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 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.

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 School Psychology 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.

Individual differences

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 School Psychology 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 the variability of the school psychologist's client, the need for problem-solving as a fundamental process of service delivery, the breadth of roles, functions, and settings where school psychology can/should be practiced, and the importance of field work, experience, and supervision to the training process.

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.

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.

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. They 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.

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

The School Psychology program’s 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 along with 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.