New York State Psychological Association

From: Michael Fenichel, School Psychology Division President-Elect
To: School Psychologists and NYS Psychologists Working with Children

                                                                                          December 7, 1998

Dear Colleague,

I am delighted to take this opportunity to write to the School Psychology Division membership, as your President for 1999.

We enter the last year of the millennium, and the 103rd year of clinical and school psychology, with much to be proud of and also great cause for concern. Just as "Managed Care" seeks to ration treatment and usurp professional judgment of licensed health care providers (including psychologists), State and Local legislators continue to seek ways to diminish the costs and demean the unique professional skills of school psychologists.

The passage of the IDEA brings with it new opportunities and responsibilities for psychologists working with children who have disabilities. As parents and teachers become our partners, out of both legal necessity and the teachings of "best practice", we are uniquely in a position to have a positive impact on children and society, while re-affirming the general publicís perception of "psychological services". School psychologists are often the front line of diagnosis and treatment for children with cognitive and emotional disability, as well as a safeguard against arbitrary labeling and placement in cost-devouring Special Education. Teachers, students, parents, and society all benefit from our work, and it is clear that helping children succeed in school is a cost-effective precursor to seeing these same children succeeding later in life. It is one of the greatest responsibilities, and a source of great satisfaction, for those of us who choose to employ our skills within educational settings.

In these times of "privatization", "Managed Care", vouchers, and the movement towards generic bachelors or masters-level "counselors", school psychology in New York State has been threatened with extinction by both school systems and "mandate relief" legislation, which argue that school psychologists are superfluous. I have personally lobbied in Albany (with several of you) on behalf of NYSPA, and continue to attempt collaborative consultation with Unions and our affiliated professional organizations. We need to collectively define what we do, how we gain our expertise, and why we are an essential component within childrenís Mental Health services. There is a strong parallel between our effort at staying in existence, and the larger NYSPA struggle to (finally) set into law a realistic "scope of practice".

I have great faith that the public, if not every administrator or School District, does indeed know what a psychologist is. Most would want our services for their child, were it needed, rather than that of a generic counselor, or someone contracted for the day with no knowledge of the school, classroom, or range of the childís behavior as demonstrated across settings in the educational environment. The IDEA empowers the parent and the teacher in collaboratively exploring problems, and finding solutions. That is a hopeful aspect of IDEA, and an opportunity to demonstrate our value to children and parents, some of whom may someday seek help outside the school setting as well.

As school psychologists, we need to be active in the public forums addressing Special Education, educational milieus, parenting skills, teaching and learning strategies, cognitive and perceptual styles, assessment issues, and the future of our profession, to name but a few major concerns.

What many of you may not know is that with all the threats to our profession as a whole, between Managed Care, the Medical Societyís attempt to restrain psychologists from "diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders", and so forth, NYSPA has steadfastly devoted a great deal of time and resources to fight the 1995-1997 "Mandate Relief" Bills, which would have virtually eliminated school psychology as a profession. School Psychology, despite itís relatively small representation as a Division, is regularly represented at both NYSPA council and our Legislative Committee meetings. I can assure you that it is well understood that as our own "scope" goes, so may go the general trend towards devaluing psychology as a specialized and unique profession.

As the political landscape continues to change, and the IDEA becomes implemented across the nation, we as licensed psychologists need to reach out to school psychologists who we have in fact been representing, and extend an invitation to join NYSPA. We need to remain alert, also, to legislative and regulatory developments, and work with our committees, as well as parents groups, School Psychology organizations, and each other.

And so, I invite each of you to participate in the dialogue. Encourage school-based colleagues to join! (Mastersí level associate membership is available, and carries many benefits). Those in arrears: Please, pay up! There is such flux and uncertainty within our profession, that membership is truly an investment in our own future, as well as that of School Psychology in New York State.

I am tentatively planning Division meetings, which will likely take place shortly following Council Meetings, beginning in early 1999 (details to follow). I welcome feedback, agenda items, questions, and comments. As you may know, I maintain several Internet sites relating to psychology and school psychology, and may expand this venue if there is interest. Iíd also like to compile a School-Division specific list of email addresses for those who have them, for the purpose of disseminating urgent information or newsletters. My own email address is:

I look forward to working with you and for you. Happy Holidays!
                                                                                           Michael Fenichel, Ph.D.

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