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"We seem to have lost our psychology" – The Identity Crisis and Role Revival of Educational Psychology.

"We seem to have lost our psychology" – The Identity Crisis and Role Revival of Educational Psychology.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Maeve Butler. Originally submitted for AP3023 Professional Issues at University College Cork, with lecturer Angela Veale in the category of Psychology
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Maeve Butler. Originally submitted for AP3023 Professional Issues at University College Cork, with lecturer Angela Veale in the category of Psychology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
―We seem to have lost our psychology‖ – 
The Identity Crisis and Role Revivalof Educational Psychology.
This statement by Lunt & Mayors in 2000 (Cameron, 2006, p.290), is as true now as itwas a decade ago. Role confusion has perpetuated the profession of educational psychology(EP), since its conception by Cyril Burt in 1964. There are several reasons for this; not leasthow psychology in general has infiltrated popular culture. The discipline is flourishing inmodern society; this thriving status can be attributed to universal concern for the higher needsof human beings, such as development (MacKay, 2002). While this trend
 
forecasts anoptimistic future (MacKay, 2002), it simultaneously jeopardises the academic eminence of the field. Specialisations su
ch as EP, are vulnerable to derision, because “in human life, psychology is ubiquitous” (Cameron, 2006, p.292). An educational psychologist‟s insight canoften be perceived as obvious by parents and teachers and dismissed by “commonsense”
scepticism (Cameron, 2006). This may however, be the least pertinent worry for the field.
MacKay (2002, p.247) suggests EP, “has become a profession that spells itself with a capital“‟e‟ and a small „p‟”; or, according to Sutton, (1978, p.151) “a career primarily within t
he
local government service rather than with psychology”. These claims suggest EP is defecting
from its roots, blurring its borders and diluting its skill base. This essay will confront thisdisturbing reality and purport a resolution in the vein of Farrell, Woods, Lewis, Rooney,
Squires and O‟Connor (2006, p.102) who state, that “the EP role should be focused aroundthe particularly psychological function within it”. Combining a personal and academic
orientation I will strongly contend, that the unique contribution and identity of EP lies in (aforgotten) psychology.While professional separatism is accepted as obsolete (Leadbetter, 2000), multi-agency and trans-disciplinary work appears to expose professional insecurity in EPs (Nash,Collins, Loughlin, Solbrig & Harvey, 2003). Government publications in the UK, such as
“Every Child Matters”, underline the importance of identifying and utilising the qualities and
skills unique to EPs, particularly in joint work contexts (Chief Secretary to the Treasury,2003). Despite this avocation, research with newly qualified EPs, shows they find it difficultto develop professional identities distinct from other education workers (Wagner, 1995;Ashton & Roberts, 2006). Once absorbed within services, post-training anxiety ensues(Stobie, 2002), as EPs are uncertain about their function and the novel input they make in
 
schools (Ashton & Roberts, 2006; Cameron, 2006). This vagueness breeds vulnerability androle conflict (MacKay, 2002) and is compounded by the fact that other professionals do jobswhich may be seen as similar to that of an EP (Kelly & Gray, 2000). Ashton and Roberts(2006) found that Special Education Needs Co-ordinators, classified many of the servicesoffered by EPs as the same as those provided by other agencies. Key features of EP practiseinclude, active listening, interpersonal negotiation skills, problem solving and applyingresearch to real-life problems (Gersh, 2004). None of these skills however, could be viewedas exclusive to the EP (Cameron, 2006
). These overlaps make it difficult to define the EP‟s
distinctive contribution (Ashton & Roberts, 2006). Furthermore, in the midst of thisambiguity EPs are required to balance the conflicting demands of clients, including children,parents and teachers (Ashton & Roberts, 2006; MacKay, 2002; Tizard, 1978). MacKay(2002) devised no less that a seven party syndicate of individuals and bodies who have a partin EPs work. Juggling the concerns of various stakeholders, especially in a multi-disciplinaryteam, makes it more difficult to retain a unique psychological focus and identity (Woolfson etal., 2003). Another issue which amplifies confusion, is the different terminology usedinternationally to differentiate between EPs. In the USA, the American PsychologicalAssociation (APA) has separate divisions for educational and school psychologists.Interestingly, Divisions 15 and 16 of the APA
, state that only school psychology “is
composed of scientific-
 practitioner psychologists”. For me, role confusion is a ver 
yunattractive characteristic of EP. I feel discouraged from working in an area with such
 blurred boundaries. I‟m not surprised to see from the British Psychological Society
(Divisions of Educational Psychology) statistics that the number of students entering theprofession plummeted to three times less than clinical psychology between 1970 and 2000.After researching the area, my own position is now shifting towards this trend.Regrettably, conflicting role demands can lead to the use of intuitive, subjectivemethods in practice (Woolfson Whaling, Stewart & Monsen, 2003). The danger with thisfragmented eclecticism, is that it may only shallowly reflect psychological theory (Woolfson,2003). Adopting such tactics which lack a coherent, model based, theoretical framework (Miller & Leyden, 1999) is a means by which EPs participate in their own demise. Validity of 
the discipline stems largely from its evidential base (MacKay, 2002) which has “academicand empirical foundations in mainstream psychology” (MacKa
y, 1990, p.3). Using the theorybase of psychology entitles psychologists to recommend evidence-based strategies for
 
practise (Cameron, 2006). This is an important niche in the field of education and stronglyappeals to my scientific sensibility. EPs are one of few professional groups that can judiciously critique findings, are skilled in research design and proficient in statisticalanalysis. While other agencies focus solely on previous success or failure, EPs useexplanatory factors and validated tools, to discover why particular variables generate specificoutcomes (Cameron, 2006). An interactive rather than a unidirectional view (see Morton,2004) of mediating variables characterises the higher order conceptual processescharacteristic of psychologists (Cameron, 2006). Hypothesis testing and problem analysis,
then allow a “best fit” or highest probability explanation to be generated (Cameron, 2006).These are valued competencies which are “almost” unique to EPs in the educational sphere
(MacKay, 2002, p.249). Evidence based practise has been less obvious in education, but thereis now a consensus that it should guide professional procedures (Cameron, 2006;Frederickson & Cline, 2002). The Scottish Executive Education Department require thatresearch is a core function of the educational psychologist, comprising both expertise andparticipation. This role is strongly supported at ground level by head teachers, 98% of whom
rated research activity as “important” or “very important” (MacKay, 1997; MacKay & Boy
le,1994). Furthermore, recognising the centrality of psychological science can improve
commonality among practitioners (Leadbetter, 2000) and be a defining feature of the EP‟s
role (Farrell et al., 2006). However, the scientist-practitioner conceptualisation of EP is notwithout its difficulties (Frederickson & Miller, 2008). While research underlined the practiceof educational psychology at fruition, there exists a fundamental tension between clinical,therapeutic approaches and academic commitments (Frederickson & Miller, 2008). Secondly,the objective of research is to present a generalized account of a process based on groups of participants (Clarke, 2004); results can only give an indication of efficacy not a prescription.The caveat of evidence based
 practise is that it “is necessary but not sufficient” (Frederickson
& Miller, 2008, p.19).Nonetheless, in a climate of privatisation, using evidence based strategies isadvantageous to educational psychologists as it enables them to validate their decisions,ensuring accountability and transparency in their work (Woolfson et al., 2003; Sebba, 2004).It is a means of negotiating and surmounting palpable bureaucratic pressures which demandthat financial investments in EPs are justified (Ashton & Roberts, 2006). Increasingexpectations and pressure are placed on EPs by central and local government (Cameron,2006). EPs work in a political climate where local authorities have only finite amounts of 

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