• Sorina I. Crisan, PhD

Shaping the Practice of School Psychology: Interview with Carol S. Lidz, Psy.D.

“Who really knows us? And, who really knows what we have accomplished in our lives?” These are the questions that Dr. Carol S. Lidz asked herself at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In search of “meaning” for “the time provided,” in 2020, Dr. Lidz became “increasingly grateful” to have the ability and personal network required to write a book that showcases her and several other female colleagues’ professional experiences within the field of School Psychology. In this honest, inspiring, and educational interview, you will be able to learn about: Dr. Lidz’s motivation to write a book about the female academic trailblazers who helped shape the teaching and practice of School Psychology, how writing one’s own story leads to a feeling of self-empowerment, that a constant “hunger for knowledge” may push one towards life-long learning and the ability to acquire the tools and expertise needed to shape their chosen field of work, the opportunities that come from collaborating and working with scholars and practitioners from around the world, the mental health challenges linked to pursuing an academic career, and much more. The interview concludes with Dr. Lidz’s hopes for the future of the field of School Psychology and her valuable advice to the junior scholars and practitioners interested in following a similar line of work.

Interview by Sorina I. Crisan, PhD

Interview with David Sylvan, PhD, Persuasive Discourse. Interview by Sorina I. Crisan, PhD. Photo from Unsplash.

Dr. Carol S. Lidz is a retired School Psychologist. Her professional experiences include (but are not limited to): Professor and Director of the School Psychology Program at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology, at Touro College, New York (1993—2001), Coordinator of the Early Childhood Specialization for School Psychologists with the School Psychology Program at Temple University, Pennsylvania (1989—1991), and School Psychologist and Coordinator of Gifted Programs at Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, Pennsylvania (1970 —1973).

Thank you for your valuable and instrumental contributions to the practice and theory of School Psychology. During the length of your distinguished academic career, you have made significant contributions to your field of study and created a strong legacy. Thus far you have published numerous articles, book chapters, books, etc. One of your most recent books, “Women Leaders in School Psychology,” was published in 2020. This book offers an honest and much needed insight into the academic path of several leading female school psychologists, by focusing on the opportunities and challenges that they have faced along the way. When and why did you become interested in putting together this book? Why did you choose this moment to publish a book linked to this theme/idea?

This book, at the time I was writing it, felt like the actual culmination of my legacy. As such, I was interested in doing it for precisely that reason: To leave a legacy.

As for the ‘why now’ question: I have been retired for a while and I have crossed an important, and somewhat frightening, age threshold. The decision to write this book reflected the combination of age, retirement, and pandemic.

The chapters in the book are contributions made by other women in a similar career situation to mine. I wanted my female colleagues to share their journey, to peruse, and to document the incredibly rich number of choices and possibilities that exist within this one career domain.

My partner and I do not have children, and I often thought that there was really no one to tell my story. I think that is true for most people, with or without children. Who really knows us? And, who really knows what we have accomplished in our lives? I thought there were others out there with similar feelings, and then came COVID and the lockdown of 2020.

My challenge throughout COVID has been to make meaning of the time provided. I felt increasingly grateful that I was in retirement mode, as I could not fathom how I would have functioned if I had been mid-career. Thankfully, the publishers were still in business, and most of the people I contacted agreed to participate. Although the book had started before the pandemic, the lockdown provided both time and motivation for its completion.

My vision for this book was to showcase a greater ethnic diversity, but unfortunately some of those individuals who would have provided it pulled out of the project at the last minute. Nevertheless, I think that with this book I was able to capture a bit of the history of the field of school psychology, while providing the opportunity for those who did participate in the writing of the book to control their own narratives.

The ability to control the narrative and tell the full continuum of my own story was an important motivator for me.

In the aforementioned book, you stated that you joined the field of school psychology when it “was still in its very early stages of development, and most programs were still trying to figure out what the preparation should include” (P. 185). Throughout your career you have been a pioneer in your field, not only because your practice informed your research findings and recommendations, but also out of necessity and due to a lack of literature and data. Thus, your career has been marked by the need to innovate. For those unfamiliar with your work and discipline, your niche research and expertise topic areas include: preschool assessment, dynamic assessment, and parent-child interaction. Looking ahead, what are some of your hopes and expectations for the future of the field of school psychology?

I certainly hope, but not necessarily expect, that the practice of School Psychology will become more open to the use of alternative approaches to assessment and research-based attention to interventions on individual, classroom, and system-based levels. Practitioners remain too attached to their norm-based tests, and too few develop the ability to treat these tests as tools for problem-solving. Each new case presents a mystery that requires detective work. What helps to prevent burn out is the constant need to explore and think fresh thoughts about the issues presented. I think the role of a School Psychologist as an in-house research consultant is greatly under-developed. This idea would involve helping educators and administrators understand the research that affects their practices, as well as conducting research within the work setting that provides local data for the practices that are adopted and decisions to be made.

To place my answer to your question within some historical context, I would like to say that I consider the timing of my career to be one of the aspects of the greatest luck that I have had, when so many things could have, and some did, go wrong along the way. Since there was relatively little precedent and I was often the sometimes first, and often only school psychologist at my job site, I had more freedom than many who followed. The downside was that school psychologists at the time were pretty much viewed as testing machines and, more specifically, as IQ test administrators. This is pretty much what was expected of me when I was offered a job. I became unhappy with this right from the start. I thought of leaving the field at several points because of this dissatisfaction, but many instances of luck along the way intervened and kept me going. Actually, the diversity of roles within the field helped. I began working in schools, quickly burned out and switched to a medical setting, became dissatisfied with that, and returned to education. Along the way, I developed my skills and thinking about what I was doing and became increasingly able to do as I thought best. However, it was also necessary to meet the expectations of those who hired me. For example, if they wanted me to be an IQ tester, I gave them their requested IQ scores, but stopped providing Full Scale scores, moved all scores of all tests to the back page, and added the procedures and narratives that I thought might actually be helpful to promote learning in the referred child.

I think what distinguished me from my colleagues was that I was always thinking about what I was doing, questioning the extent to which I wished to continue to do it. I discovered that the word “can’t” often meant “won’t,” and that, if I just went ahead and did what I thought was best, the world didn’t stop, and more importantly at the time, I didn’t get fired.

I also read a lot within the field. One of the things I find disappointing in many of my colleagues is their lack of literacy in the scholarship of the field. I have always felt very inadequate and hungry for knowledge. I never felt I knew enough to do the job that I thought needed to be done. I graduated from programs that dedicated a lot of time to psychodynamic theory and practices. I remember one of my first referrals where the teacher expressed concerns about the student’s difficulty with learning how to read, and I remember finding myself writing out the results of my findings from my automatic administration of the Rorschach and Thematic Apperception Test (among others). At one point, I stopped and asked myself: What was I doing? That sent me right back to school to learn more about reading and to learn about curriculum-based assessment.

Even when I discovered the work of Reuven Feuerstein and his colleagues, in the area of dynamic assessment, I found it to be a meaningful but not perfect fit to my needs. I immediately began to process it in terms of adjustments that needed to be made and further developments that would allow me to put the basic ideas into practice.

In your 2020 book, Women Leaders in School Psychology, you stated that this is going to be your “last publication” (p. 203). Is that the case?

Actually, my latest book, co-authored with my colleague and friend Boris Gindis, titled Developing a Foundation for Learning of Internationally Adopted Children, was published this year (2022), by Routledge.

Boris has the expertise in the area of international adoption. For me, this book was a way to preserve a parenting program I first developed for use with young children of all developmental levels with or without special needs. That completed my circle of exploring the multiple applications of Mediated Learning Experience which has allowed me to first think through Feuerstein’s basic theory and then use this for development of procedures that I actually used in my practice of assessment, parent-teacher consultation, and parent (actually mediator) education.

It is my perception that you spent most of your career working within academia. As such, I am curious to know: In hindsight, what do you believe are some of the benefits and dis-benefits of a lifetime career spent in academia?

I did not have a lifetime-long career in academia. That is because, I was a practitioner in school settings for many years before entering academia. However, I always had the mind of a researcher and was always developing ideas that I wished I could explore with research.

As I sorted through my files at the end of my career, I surprised even myself with the large number of project proposals that never saw daylight. I never even actively sought an academic position, because of my lack of research and publications, so that is part of what I meant above when I referred to instances of luck.

As my career progressed, I felt firmly planted on the fence between practice and research. I lucked into a position as director of a team that provided city-wide services to Project Head Start, and my supervisor not only listened to my crazy ideas, but also provided the loose leash that allowed me to go ahead with some of my projects. Of course, I always used a good deal of my own time and funding for any such projects (ask my husband).

During the most productive time of my practice, the field of School Psychology was becoming increasingly aware of the need to train practitioners to work with preschool children and programs, and a contract for this was given to the School Psychology program at Temple University. It was at this time that I became an academic. The principal faculty member for the contract invited me to assume the role of coordinator, and she arranged a Dean’s Appointment for me as an assistant professor. This was aided by the fact that there were simply very few school psychologists out there with significant preschool experience.

In more direct response to your question, I think the fact that I had so many years as a practitioner was extremely valuable to my academic career. Not only did it inform my research with information that needed to be investigated, but my students were aware and appreciative of my practical experience.

Movement to the academic world of course feeds the desire to influence the next generation and the development of the field. I especially enjoyed working with my students on their research projects. I never forced my ideas on them, but did offer guidance and engagement in my projects if they found themselves floundering, and we accomplished a great deal together.

I think a full-time career in academia would have diluted the relevance of the work I eventually produced, though I certainly would not have minded earlier access to the research possibilities.

Based on your own research and experience, how do you view the link between mental health and working in academia? As mentioned in your book, Women Leaders in School Psychology, an academic career is filled by “moments of doubt and frustration” alongside its successes (P. 203). It is my perception that, from the starting level of a junior scholar to that of an accomplished senior scholar, following an academic path is challenging and taxing on one’s mental health. To be more precise, an academic career is filled with the pressures of completing and defending a PhD, applying for, and sometimes failing to obtain grant funding, the need for constant publishing and maintaining your research/academic relevance, the struggle to obtain an academic position and ultimately gain tenure, and later on, for some, the desire to obtain an honorary position or emeritus status past retirement age. In my experience, talking about the mental pressures and challenges encountered by academics is a taboo topic. As such, discussing any weaknesses one might have, is highly frowned upon, which is an unhealthy approach to take. Is there a solution to this problem? If so, what could that solution be?

I did indeed experience a good deal of pressure along the way, a good deal of it because I was working in an area that some perceived as threatening. The area of psychometrics consumes a significant portion of the training and practice of school psychologists, and the purchase of tests impacts the economy of many who relate to the field. My area of work is not free of psychometrics but requires much re-thinking. Putting the ideas into practice also requires thinking, and practitioners cannot totally rely on memorizing, or merely reading, questions with expected responses.

As I mentioned in my chapter related to my own career trajectory (in Women Leaders in School Psychology), I was never, and I mean never, able to secure a grant of my own. This, among some other incidents, generated a significant amount of paranoia in me. (Note the incident when I received the feedback for one grant application where the high scores were crossed out and much lower scores inserted). If I did get a project going, I was on my own regarding any expenses.

Speaking of issues that do not get discussed, I also experienced the issue of ‘affirmative action’ where I was at the wrong end of the spectrum – incredible, given the nature of the work I was doing. No one was more committed than I to evening the playing field, but, in my view, discrimination is discrimination, and there is nothing pretty about it from any angle.

Solutions? Nothing really comes to mind. In general, I think it is wise to develop good mentors and networks along the way. I lacked mentors, but much of the ‘luck’ I experienced related to having a network of colleagues. I also think it is important to become involved in one’s own professional associations at all levels, as well as to reach beyond these borders, including into the international pond. Some of my most satisfying experiences have come from my international involvements.

Would you like to share any remarks and/or suggestions for young scholars interested in following a similar line of research such as yours?

I would suggest becoming deeply knowledgeable about what has already been done, and not to be afraid of contacting the authors and researchers who have done the work. It is easy to locate people on the internet, and many are very generous with their time and eager to be helpful. Many in fact consider it flattering to hear from young scholars who are interested in continuing or building upon the same or similar line of research.

What not to do is to ask the senior researcher to do the work that should have been done by the seeker.

While in a program, I would recommend becoming involved in existing faculty projects and to develop positive working relationships with both the faculty, as well as with fellow students who may turn out to be collaborators in the future.

Thank you for reading.

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Sannia Abdullah Close, PhD. Interview for Persuasive Discourse, by Sorina I. Crisan PhD. Photo from the Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) webpage.

Carol S. Lidz, Psy.D.

School Psychologist (Retired)

Professor and Director (1993—2001)

Graduate School of Education and Psychology

Touro College | New York | U.S.A.

Are you inspired by this interview and would like to learn more about Dr. Lidz's work?

Consult Dr. Lidz's publications and unpublished research on ResearchGate.net. Furthermore, her work related to Dynamic Assessment may be found and accessed online at: Vanderbilt University – Peabody Library.

For a quick view, here are some of Dr. Lidz’s publications:

Gindis, Boris and Carol S. Lidz, 2022, “Developing a Foundation for Learning with Internationally Adopted Children”, New York: Routledge. Available online here.

Lidz, Carol S. (Ed.), 2020, “Women Leaders in School Psychology”, Cham: Springer. Available online here.

Haywood, H. Carl and Carol S. Lidz, 2007, “Dynamic Assessment in Practice: Clinical and Educational Applications”, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Available online here.

Lidz, Carol S., 2003, “Early Childhood Assessment”, New York: Wiley. Available online here.

Lidz, Carol S., 1997, “Dynamic Assessment: Psychoeducational Assessment with Cultural Sensitivity”, Journal of Social Distress and Homelessness, Vol 6(2), 95–111. Available online here.

Illustrations by: The main article photo made available on Unsplash, courtesy of Wix.com photo gallery. The profile photo used on this page was made available by Dr. Lidz.

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