Psychological Services in Elementary Schools in Normal Times and in Emergencies

The educational psychological services in Israel’s schools were developed to promote the well-being and mental health of students. They are provided by educational psychologists who help to identify difficulties experienced by students, assess the needs of the students, advise the principals, teachers and parents, and provide psychological support to children and their parents, both routinely and during emergencies. The Educational Psychology Service (EPS) is a municipal service that is co-funded and operated by the Psychological and Counseling Services (PCS) at the Ministry of Education and the local authorities.

The study examined the role of the educational psychologist as described through interviews with the psychologists themselves, members of school staffs (principals, counselors and teachers), and directors of the EPSs and the education and social service departments. It examined the psychologist’s role in both routine situations and during emergencies and explored the interface between the psychologists and external programs addressing emotional issues that exist in the schools. The interviews were conducted in 2012 and a further round was conducted after Operation Pillar of Defense, focusing on emergencies. The study was qualitative, and was conducted in 15 Jewish and Arab elementary schools in both the center of Israel and in the periphery.

The study found that in addition to the one-on-one aspect of the psychologist’s work, the role included a substantial amount of system-based activity: much of the psychologist’s work was aimed at affecting change at the classroom or overall school level. Working at the system level gave the psychologists more extensive influence, which gave them great satisfaction. The system-based approach was evident during emergencies and was perceived by many to be particularly successful. Interviews conducted after Pillar of Defense revealed that the strategies that had been developed in preparation for crises were indeed implemented in practice.

Key challenges facing the system:

  • School psychologists have almost no time for individual therapy with children in need of it. Thus, given the limited availability of public psychological services for children in the community, some of these children do not receive the treatment they need.
  • For a number of reasons, in many Arab localities there is a lack of educational psychologists, making it difficult to provide this important service to students.
  • The interviews revealed a sense a high level of readiness for emergencies in recent years, which was an improvement. However, several challenges were found regarding the treatment provided during the Operation, particularly the need to increase the parents’ readiness for emergencies, to provide appropriate long-term responses to children, and to improve the service during emergencies in the Arab sector.

The study was funded with the assistance of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and Ms. Karen Lombart of Virginia. USA.

Citations in the professional and academic literature

Daeem, R., Mansbach-Kleinfeld, I., Farbstein, I., Khamaisi, R., Ifrah, A., Muhammad, A. S., … & Apter, A. (2016). Help seeking in school by Israeli Arab minority adolescents with emotional and behavioral problems: results from the Galilee Study. Israel journal of health policy research5(1), 49.

Alkalay, S., & Dolev, A. (2019). Public educational psychology services in Israel on the internet. Israel journal of health policy research8(1), 31.

Citing suggestion: Ashkenazi, Y., Angel, M., & Topilsky, T. (2014). Psychological Services in Elementary Schools in Normal Times and in Emergencies. RR-667-14, ES-44-14. Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute. (Hebrew)