In 2005 an APS survey of school psychologist members showed that many school psychologists felt professionally isolated and found it difficult to access professional peers who had expertise in and knowledge of the unique nature of school psychological practice. This was coupled with feedback from the more experienced school psychologists that there was a lack of opportunity for them to share their knowledge and expertise with others in the field. It was also found that the lack of access to peer consultation was particularly an issue in rural, remote and regional areas of Australia. Much consideration was given to this reported lack of accessible support for school psychologists. Therefore, the APS developed the register with the aim of providing a publicly available national database of school psychologists who are available to provide a peer consultation service that school psychologists in all areas of Australia could use when seeking continuing professional development via the telephone, web and through traditional face-to-face methods.
A recent analysis of the number of visits to the register revealed that in 2009 from January to November the average number of hits in any one month was 158, with February and March both receiving over 190 hits. This shows that the register is receiving a significant amount of interest by those possibly seeking a peer consultation service provider. It was then decided that it was time to survey peer consultation service providers on the register in order to further evaluate the effectiveness and relevance of this resource and to make any necessary changes. An anonymous online survey was sent to the 87 members listed on the register. Although it should be noted that the results represented here come from a small sample size (32/87), overall respondents provided a clear picture of the usefulness of the register and some interesting ideas on how the register could be improved.
Thirty-seven percent (N = 32) of peer consultation service providers filled in the survey. Most respondents came from NSW (n = 11) and Victoria (n= 11), with all other states represented except Tasmania. The majority were located in metropolitan regions (n = 25), followed by regional (n = 5), rural (n = 1) and remote (n = 1).
Overall, the majority of peer consultation service providers (66%) believed that it was very important to have an APS register of school psychologists available to provide a peer consultation service, with 31% placing moderate importance on this resource. Fifty-six percent of peer consultation service provider had one to five phone calls from potential service recipients since being on the register and 12.5% received between 6 and 20 phone calls. Only ten peer consultation service provider had not received any phone calls or emails from potential service recipients. Sixty-three percent of those who received phone calls from potential service recipients had formed a peer consultation relationship. A variety of peer consultation modes were employed, including face-to-face, telephone and web-based models (such as through email, Skype and web-based instant messaging services). The most common reason for providing web-based or telephone-based peer consultation was because of geographic limitations making face-to-face meetings difficult or impossible.
Although the register was not developed for the purpose of provisional psychologists gaining registration, seven respondents indicated that they were providing peer consultation to provisionally registered individuals for this purpose - all of whom had found their contact details on the register. Twenty-three out of the 32 respondents indicated that they had completed Board-approved training in providing peer consultation. The most common reason for not completing any Board-approved training was that it was not required by their state or territory board (survey was conducted pre-national registration).
Qualitative feedback from peer consultation service providers reveals that the majority believe that the register is an important resource. It provides an avenue for school psychologists to seek continuing professional development from a psychologist familiar with the practice of providing school-based psychological services. Many stated that this is especially imperative when general training of psychologists often does not cover this unique area of psychological work. Furthermore, respondents indicated that the register allows school psychologists to seek support from a skilled school psychologist in order to critically evaluate their clinical work and to discuss ethical dilemmas and professional practice issues in an open manner - a privilege for many because of the isolated nature of the role.
Respondents had some useful ideas for how the register could be improved. Marketing of the register to relevant stakeholders was mentioned most frequently. Many respondents suggested schools, education departments, university psychology courses and the Psychology Board of Australia as possible stakeholders who would be interested in such a resource. Other suggestions related to providing more information about peer consultation service providers on the register. For example, including college membership details, the year that peer consultation service providers began practicing as a school psychologist and an indication of whether or not they have participated in Board-approved training would all assist school psychologists in choosing an appropriate peer consultation service provider to suit their needs. The significant number of hits to the register suggests that it is utilised by those seeking continuing professional development and the results of the recent survey of registrants will assist the APS to improve, maintain and promote this resource for Australian school psychologists.