Psychopharmacology: Considerations for School-Based Practicum Students

By Shahidullah, Jeffrey D. | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, June 2012 | Go to article overview
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Psychopharmacology: Considerations for School-Based Practicum Students


Shahidullah, Jeffrey D., National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


With roles in assessment, intervention, counseling, and consultation, the responsibilities of school psychologists are wide-ranging. The requirement to become proficient in this broad range of skills can be overwhelming for school psychology graduate students. Fortunately, graduate training in school psychology requires practicum experiences that allow students to gain exposure to school settings and learn from licensed or credentialed professionals. Despite working under the supervision of experienced school psychologists, school psychology graduate students are still likely to encounter challenging situations.

One role in particular that may seem daunting is working with children who are prescribed with and taking psychotropic medications. Given the increased prevalence of school-age children prescribed psychotropic medications (DuPaul & Carlson, 2005) , ideally, practicum students will be prepared to work effectively with children taking medication, along with their families, teachers, and other school staff. This article (a) examines situations involvingmedication-relatedissues that graduate students may encounter and be expected to handle on any school-based practicum experience, (b) offers considerations for howpracticum students should approach these roles, and (c) provides practical tips for practicum students to ensure they can work competently within these situations.

ROLES AND TRAINING FOR PRACTICUM STUDENTS

The school-based practicum experience is meant to offer school psychology graduate students an awareness of the day-to-day duties of a school psychologist in the context of working with actual clients (Fagan & Wise, 2007). Typically, practicum students are assigned assessment, intervention, counseling, and consultation cases under the supervision of a school psychologist. In these roles, it is important for practicum students and their field supervisors to find out if a child is medicated, because this determination may affect how school psychological duties are carried out. Practicum students should familiarize themselves with district-specific guidelines regarding the roles they undertake and how they determine whether a child is medicated, as parents maybe under no obligation to inform the school if their child is prescribed and taking psychotropic medication.

Ultimately, taking on psychopharmacological roles in school settings must be limited to those who have received proper training and experience, as dictated by ethical and professional guidelines (NASP, 2010). It is not expected that school psychologists have the training required to play an active role in psychopharmacological treatment decision-making. However, they will likely have the training to communicate effectively with andbe an information resource for families and school staff regarding medication issues. Likewise, this is an important objective for practicum students.

Conceivably, practicum students would be able to gain a basic understanding of the most commonly prescribed pediatric medications, in addition to their uses and sideeffects. Practicum students may also be expected to know how to properly navigate and examine school, medical, and other health records to determine a child's medication history. Having knowledge of both current and past medications a child has been prescribed may provide vital information needed for intervention. Additionally, it is important for practicum students to be able to assist in collecting classroom observations and other data necessary for a possible family-initiated physician referral.

Most school psychology students have training in consultation and counseling based on evidence-based methods. Both are vital competencies in working with children to help them manage social, emotional, andbehavioral struggles and with families and school staff to help them work effectively with a child who is taking medication. It maybe necessary for practicum students to work with teachers and explain how a psychopharmacological intervention may affect a child academically, emotionally, and/ or behaviorally in the classroom.

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