Academic journal article Journal of School Health

School Psychologists' Perceived Competence and Training Needs for Student Substance Abuse

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

School Psychologists' Perceived Competence and Training Needs for Student Substance Abuse

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

There is no doubt that mental health services are needed for students in schools today. In recent years, many in the field have called upon school psychologists to address this concern by expanding their roles to include the provision of mental health services. (1,2) The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) states that, "School Psychologists are mental health professionals" and encourages providing mental health services to students in school settings. (3) Although certain mental health problems (eg, behavioral disorders, attention-deficitlhyperactivity disorder) have received much attention from the field of school psychology, other problem areas such as substance abuse have not. This is especially troubling given the rate at which students report the use of substances.

Students in high school typically report higher substance use levels than their middle school counterparts and indicate the use of a variety of substances. (4) Approximately 34% of 10th-grade students and 45% of 12th-grade students reported using alcohol in the previous 30 days. For drugs such as marijuana and inhalants, almost 18% of 10th-grade students and 22% of 12th-grade students reported using one of these substances in the previous 30 days. (4) A small but significant proportion of students who use drugs will develop more-severe substance abuse problems that will negatively affect their lives. (5,6) It is estimated that approximately 10% of youth in the United States aged 12 to 17 are illicit drug users and that 8% of these youth meet the criteria for a substance abuse or dependence disorder. (7) Based on these statistics, school psychologists working in high schools are likely to come into contact with students who have substance abuse problems.

The results from a national survey of school administrators conducted by Foster et al (8) indicated that school counselors (77%), nurses (69%), psychologists (68%), and social workers (44%) were the most likely personnel to deliver mental health services in schools. In this survey, mental health services were defined broadly and included substance abuse. Fifty-six percent of the high schools surveyed indicated that they provided some type of substance abuse counseling to their students, but it is not clear whether the school personnel described above have the training to effectively provide such services. A specific recommendation from the Foster et al study is that more research be conducted to understand what type of specialized training, if any, school personnel who deliver mental health services in schools have. School psychologists are uniquely poised to provide assistance to students with substance abuse problems because of their specific training in areas such as consultation, assessment, and intervention. (9) Furthermore, in many school settings, the school psychologist may be the most highly trained mental health expert, (10) making him or her a key resource in all school-based substance abuse education, prevention, and intervention efforts. (9,11) At the very least, school psychologists should have some knowledge of substance abuse so as to be able to provide effective consultation and referrals for students and their parents. Unfortunately, reviews of the literature indicate that the level of training that school mental health personnel possess to effectively address student substance abuse concerns is limited--and practically nonexistent in the case of school psychologists.

Three prior studies have been conducted that directly surveyed school mental health personnel about their perceived competence and practices related to student substance abuse, (12-14) but all 3 studies included samples of school counselors, not school psychologists. In general, the findings from the studies indicated that school counselors do not perceive themselves as having the necessary competency to effectively address student substance abuse problems but identified needed areas for future training such as substance abuse screening and individual interventions. …

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