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Psychology in the Belgium Education System
The School Psychologist in Belgium
- Flemish Speaking Community
The School Psychologist in the Flemish Speaking Community of Belgium
A number of social, political and educational develpments have quite changed the prospective of student support in the Belgian Flemish Community during the last years ( info: De Beuckeleer & Verschueren, 2004) These changes were the reason for the Flemish Federation for School Psychology (VVSP) to evaluate and explain the profile of the school psychologist. An explanation of the profile of the school psychologist is important in order to make clear to parents, schools, administration, employers which competences they can expect from a school psychologist. Also for psychologists themselves such an explanation is significant. Thus school psychologist become more aware of their professional identity or also of their added value for a school and the multiprofessional team of a Centre for student support (CLB).
Who are school psychologists ?
Establishing a profile of a school psychologist not only recent development in the Flemish student support were taken into account, but also internationally common definitions and contributions of school psychological work. Here comes a short overview of some important definitions.
The International School Psychology Association (ISPA) looks at school psychologists as “professionals prepared in psychology and education who are recognized as specialists in providing psychological services to children and youth within the context of school, families and other settings that impact their growth and development” (Cunningham & Oakland, 1998). The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), the American professional federation of school psychologists, states that school psychologists are bridging psychology and education (“School psychologists have specialized training in both psychology and education.”, http://www.nasponline.org). At the Berkeley University (one of the universities where a PhD program in schoolpsychology is offered) school psychologists are defined as “professionals trained to work with preschoolers, children, adolescents, and their teachers and families. They work with all school personnel to help make education for students a positive and rewarding experience.” (http://www-gse.berkeley.edu/program). It is also pointed out that school psychologists are behavioral scientists or “scientist-practitioner”. Further on it is stated that: “the school psychologist is the cognitive, social and behavioral scientist in the school setting who designs, administers and /or participates in a school psychological services delivery system.” The task of school psychological work is described as “the promotion of academic and social development and school success for all children”.
Our profile is based on these definitions and the Flemish educational context and we define school psychologists as such:
NASP has made an inventaris of the most prominent tasks of school psychologists and also of the competence key areas of school psychologists. Based on this task package and taking the Flemish educational context into account, we differentiate five key competence areas of school psychologists. How basically competent should be each school psychologist in order to do the tasks, are focal points shifts possible in the task package, depending on the specific work context and function (e.g. inside vs outside of school).
Generally it can be stated that school psychologists are activ in three areas (a) learning processes and cognitive development of children and adolescents (b) psycho social development and functionning (incl. Healthy behavior), and (c) school career counselling. Each of the following mentionned tasks
1. Psychological Assessment
2. Direct interventions
3. Indirect interventions
4. Prevention and Education
5. Research and vocational training
In principal the interventions of school psychologists can be integrated into the follwoing table. In the lines the three key activity areas are presented, in the columns you will find the five key task areas. Practically activities can also be done at the same time across different cells.
The complex task package demands a profound, specialised training with special attention to the integration of : (a) content based knowledge esp. in the named support areas (learning processes and cognitive development, psycho social functioning, school career counselling); (b) diagnostic skills and support skills needed for direct, indirect intervention and prevention in the school context; (c) basic knowledge of the educational system and (d) a general behaviour scientifical and methodological knowledge.
Cunningham, J., & Oakland, T. (1998). International School Psychology Association guidelines for the preparation of school psychologists. School Psychology International, 19, 19-30.
De Beuckeleer, M., & Verschueren, K. (2004) Interne en externe leerlingenbegeleiding: Het plaat(s)je van de schoolpsycholoog. Bijdrage aan het colloquium ‘Maatschappelijke relevantie van het beroep van psychologen’ of the Belgian Federation o f Psychologists, Brussels, 9 december.
The School Psychologist in the French Speaking Community of Belgium
In 1947, the first Belgian centres of ‘Psycho-Médico-Social’(PMS) opened. Step by step they replaced the ‘offices of school and career counselling’ which had existed since 1911. In the beginning of the 20th century psychologists and physicians and/or nurses tried to pin down the intellectual, psychological and physical skills of students, which could provide sufficient information about how to do a good job. The goal was to select or encourage the most capable students for a particular job according to Taylor’s economic theory “The right man in the right place”.
After the Second World War the educational system went through a process of democratisation. Thus the focus was rather on the needs of children: not only career counselling was in the limelight, but also a good adaptation to school challenges, which aimed at an inclusive education of all young people.
In order to reach the students and support the teachers, a permanent team was created with a psychologist, a social worker, a nurse and occasionally a physician. They analysed the situation of the students, contributed to the educational work of teachers and parents, and did individual counselling in social, psychological, medical or sometimes psycho-pedagogical terms.
The Belgian National Ministry of Education split up into the French, Flemish and German speaking community around 1988. The Flemish speaking community was looking at a different structure than the PMS centres by setting up multi disciplinary centres, whereas the French and German speaking communities maintained the original structure. The PMS centres are still organised and subsidised by the Ministry of Education of the French speaking community. Like all schools, each PMS centre depends on a specific organisational body, called ‘network’: the network of the French speaking community organises its own educational system, containing the freely subsidised Catholic network, and the officially subsidised communal and provincial networks. The free Catholic educational system covers half of the student population. Thus, each centre usually acts as prescribed by its network.
Mission of the PMS centres
1. Promotion of psychological psycho-pedagogical, medical and social well-being, which offer the student the best chances to harmoniously develop their personality and to prepare them to become an independent and responsible citizen who participates actively in the social, cultural and economical life.
3. Supporting the student in the positive development of their personal, academic and professional life project as well as in their social professional integration in the perspective of lifelong guidance.
The basic common program of the PMS centres organised and subsidised by the French speaking community includes the following activities:
1 Offering service to the consultants;
The centre’s team provides a profound assessment of the students showing severe learning difficulties and in need of special education. The goal of this assessment is to determine the most adequate type of education among eight possibilities: performance disorders or learning disorders, minimal brain dysfunctions, mental disorders, behaviour disorders or psycho pathologies, physical handicaps, chronic illnesses, deafness and mutes and visual disorders. The parents are always welcome to refuse the proposed advice.
The school psychologist in a team of three different professions
In the centre you would never talk about a school psychologist or social school assistant or school nurse. Only the medical doctor, who works at the centre from time to time, is sometimes referred to as school doctor. Everybody in the centre needs to be able to run the consultations, workshops, do summary reports and participate actively in the team. Sometimes a PMS member is asked to apply conflict resolution strategies between three parties: teachers, parents and students, being situated between different generations and between the family and school environment. Confidentiality is essential for everybody. It is always tried to also respond to those who ask for help and not only to those who ask for help on behalf of others. E.g. a teacher, who wishes the centre to meet a student, is asked to discuss first with the student themself. The same procedure happens, if the parents ask for help for their children. The parents are asked to first hold a discussion with their child. The same procedure applies whenever students wish to discuss issues without the presence of a teacher.
A huge problem is the severe lack of staff. A psychologist in an PMS centre with a medium sized population between 4000/4500 students is responsible for about 2000 students, 4000 parents, 200 teachers, and 5 or 6 heads of school. In other words, every psychologist as any other member of the PMS centre has to prioritise their workload.
The PMS centre’s psychologists are officially called «psychopedagogical counsellors». They need to have a diploma of five years university training in psychology – in the short future a ‘master’ in psychology. There are also «psychopedagogical assistants» in the subsidised networks (free Catholic, provincial, communal). These indoviduals are required to have a bachelor university degree in psychology.
The Commission of Psychologists, legally responsible to award the name of psychologists in Belgium, recognises the university degree of a diploma or a masters, but not the bachelor degree. The psychopedagogical counsellor does not see any interest in receiving the title of a ‘psychologist’ in Belgium. The working conditions do not demand to have such a title and thus the counsellors do not see any reason why they should pay for a permission to carry the title of a ‘psychologist’.
Mission of Health Promotion in Schools (PSE) and Health Promotion in Colleges (PSES)
Health promotion in schools is a compulsory task whereas the typical consulting activities of a PMS centre can be refused or accepted. The psychopedagogical counsellor in a PMS centre of the network of the French speaking community sometimes participates in health programme workshops, especially whenever psycho-medical-social aspects will be involved, such as addiction, violence, abuse, sex education, personal development, stress, sleep, etc.
Some Belgian ministers have tried to centralise the two services (PSE and PMS) in all educational networks. But the PSE services have always blocked this development: the PMS centres are run by psychologists, the PSE services are run my medical doctors. Now, there are three ministers responsible for students in the French speaking community: the minister of the obligatory educational system, the minister for college education and the minister responsible for health promotion in schools and colleges.
AFAPMS, asbl : Association Francophone des Agents Psycho-Médico-Sociaux, site www.afapms.org rue Bourtonbourt, 16 à B 5000 NAMUR 0032(0)81 729586