A Qualitative Study of School Psychologists' Perception and Interpretation of Their Professional Identity

Elizabeth A. Sanders


The primary focus or aim of this qualitative multiple-case study was to increase understanding of how experienced school psychologists define themselves as professionals within the field, taking into consideration the profession’s collective or organizational identity, the parameters established by the organization, and the actual performance of the job within the educational setting. Specifically, this study examined how the individuals’ definitions had changed over time and what lived experiences led to development and change in professional identity. Six school psychologists with 10 or more years of experience from a large urban Southwestern school district’s school psychology department were invited to participate. Data were collected through in-depth interview and then through participation in a focus group. Individual and focus group interviews were recorded and transcribed and member-checks provided. Four dominant themes emerged from the data: (1) Developing a definition of oneself as a professional school psychologist is a lifelong process of engagement, constantly evolving and adapting based on each person’s accumulated lifetime and professional experiences and interpreted through their personal lens; (2) Identity is multi-faceted with roles defined in response to the needs of the people served and interpreted within the contexts in which the participants worked; (3) All of the participants characterized themselves first and foremost as advocates for children; (4) All identified leadership as the most important skill set needed in the performance of their practice. Implications for school psychology practitioners, trainers, and program coordinators were indicated.