Psychology in the Education System of Switzerland


1. Organizations of Psychologists in the Educational System

In Switzerland, the Swiss Association for Child and Adolescent Psychology (SKJP/ASPEA/ASPEE) is the main association of psychologists practicing in the field of school psychology / educational psychology, or more generally in the field of child and adolescent psychology. SKJP/ASPEA/ASPEE is an affiliate member of ISPA, the International School Psychology Association. The Swiss Association for Child and Adolescent Psychology has some 700 members: university trained psychologists, most of them with a degree equivalent to a Master degree. They work in the educational system as school psychologists, some are clinical psychologists or child guidance counselors working within institutions or in private practice. The total number of school psychologists in Switzerland is unknown. It is estimated to be around 800.

As the educational system in Switzerland is regulated on the level of the 26 cantons (states or provinces), the legal norms which apply to school psychology, as well as the working conditions including functions and salaries are very diverse in the different parts of the country. In Switzerland there are 4 national languages which are spoken in 4 different regions. 64% of the 7 million inhabitants speak German, 20% speak French, 7% speak Italian and 1% speaks Romanic. Most SKJP/ASPEA/ASPEE members live and work in the German speaking part of Switzerland. In the French speaking part, psychologists are rather organized in regional associations of psychologists.

English is a foreign language in Switzerland. Students learn it at school, mostly as a third language. Psychologists who work with children or adolescents have to speak the local language, in German speaking Switzerland they have to understand the regional dialect. This requirement as well as restrictions of the labour market (for professionals from outside Switzerland or the European Union) are often a barrier for English speaking psychologists who wish to work in Switzerland.

2. Educational Psychology in the country

History of Educational Psychology

It is difficult to show the historical lines of development of educational psychology in Switzerland due to the country’s four language regions and also due to school systems which vary from canton to canton.

The origin of Swiss educational psychology goes back to Claparède, a pedagogies professor at the University of Geneva, who is said to have introduced the term educational psychology in Switzerland. Other important forerunners were Hans Hegg in Berne and Jean Tinguely, who worked in Basel and St. Gallen.

At the beginning of the 50es the cantons Basel, Lucerne and St. Gallen offered educational psychology service in its original meaning, accompanied by further information centers which were concerned with education and psychological questions.

The 60s were characterized by the creation of many new offices in many cantons and by a remarkable rise in the number of children using the services offered, which lead to long waiting lists. The focus of the work lied within single cases, often neglecting consulting services to parents. The founding of the professional association VSSE (association of Swiss educational psychologists and educational advisors), whose main tasks were at that time the separation and classification of educational psychology towards other fields of psychology and their respective associations, proved to be crucial in the further development of Swiss educational psychology.

Four thematic core themes characterized the educational psychology in the 70s. Through the publication of professional guidelines by the VSSE it came to a development and consolidation of the professions position and to a change of the association’s name from VSSE to SKJP/ASPEA/ASPEE (Association of Swiss Child- and Youth Psychologists). SKJP is today a professional association representing all child- and youth psychologists in Switzerland with a university degree.

Since 1975 the professional journal ‘Der Jugendpsychologe’ is published, since 1985 the journal ‘Psychologie und Eltern (P&E)’. Another focus of that period was the extension of extra psychological institutions and therapy services (enrolment classes, lega theraphy) and the enlargement of the educational psychology services by means of employing more personnel. Increasingly evaluations and conceptualisations of educational psychological work appeared as a further tool to improve psychological work. Groundbreaking was Ochsner’s model of “integrated educational psychology”, which Tinguely called “a small guidebook of educational psychology”. Important elements of the model were the extension of the profession’s field of functions away from simple single-case-work and also the integration of the therapeutic service into educational psychology.

At the end of the 70s educational psychologists were more and more victims of socio-political critique, which aimed at picturing them as handymen of a sheer achievement-orientated school system.

3. Legal Protection of the Profession

Current Organization of Educational Psychology in Switzerland

The Educational Psychological Service has no legal basis on federal level and is therefore, in most cantons, regulated through cantonal laws and ordinances. Mostly there are public consulting services which are affiliated to the cantonal department for education or which are, given the legal basis in the corresponding cantons, organized on a communal basis. These services are usually independent from the local schools. Here the principle of subsidiary is to be used, meaning that a school has to exploit its internal possibilities of resolving cases before giving over a case to the educational psychologist service.

The occupational image of child- and youth psychology of SKJP forms together with the association’s statutes the basic guidelines for educational psychological work.

Educational psychology’s field of responsibility

As mentioned before, the performance concepts of the educational psychology services vary from canton to canton or sometimes even from community to community. Most services’ main tasks are the following:

• Consulting of children and/or adolescents and their reference persons in case of difficulties with school work, particularities in terms of studying behaviour or achievement, behavioural problems and psychic and psychosocial difficulties, which manifest themselves at school or influence the atmosphere at school.

• therapeutic interventions and help within the guidelines of the service’s mission and the temporal capacities, where by the basic educational psychological service enjoys priority

• psychological treatment and initiation of supporting measures

• creation of allocation reports and proposals for the authorities in case of need for furtherance or therapy

• coordination and evaluation of pedagogic and therapeutic measures, counselling of involved qualified personnel and the authorities

• public relations

Registration can be done through either the legal guardians, the adolescent (from age 14 upwards) himself or through a third person with a written permit issued by the legal guardians. The use of the educational psychological service is normally limited to the timeframe of compulsory schooltime.

4. Training of Educational Psychologists

Schooling and further Education

In order to work as a educational psychologist one needs a completed course of studies (Lizenziat or Master) with the major psychology at a university in Switzerland or abroad or a diploma at the Hochschule für Angewandte Psychologie (HAP). Furthermore the studies’ internships have to be done in the field of child- or youth psychology.

Subsequent to the finished studies the postgraduate and extra occupational SKJP further education can be done, which is required to carry the title Fachpsychologin/Fachpsychologe für Kinder- und Jugendpsychologie FSP (professional psychologist for child- and youth psychology FSP). This further education includes a minimum of 700 hours, takes (depending on individual decision) three or four years and qualifies for self-reliant work in the field of child- and youth psychology. Child- and youth psychologists, who function as single- or family therapists besides their consulting position, need an additional psychotherapeutic education. Besides this basic and special education permanent further education and regular supervision are required in order to maintain the service’s quality.

The possibilities for education and training at educational psychological services include practical training for students with minor field of study psychopathology of child- and youth age, as well as temporary fixed jobs as assistance psychologists, which should make the entry into the field of work easier.

5. Present Issues

At the moment our association mainly focuses on the following topics:

Law of the psychologist’s job: A Swiss-wide law is in elaboration. The law’s goals are to guarantee security of titles, to clarify the requirements for the self-reliant exercise of the job, as well as the admission of further education and the Swiss-wide recognition of titles earned in further education.

Swiss-wide clarification procedure for extra pedagogical measures: In the context of the reorganisation of the division of the distribution of responsibilities between the federal institutions and the cantons, the federal IV (insurance for invalids) now no longer finances extra pedagogic schools. From now on the cantons are responsible for it. The conference of the education secretaries of the cantons therefore works out common quality standards for the extra pedagogic schools and a Swiss-wide procedure, which should be based on the ICF (International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health).

Professional titles in child- and youth psychology: Our association advocates that the postgraduate professional title in child- and youth psychology gains more weight in the process of employing new psychologists.

by Simon Walther