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Strategies for Student Success: Strategies for Success: De-escalation

Patrick Frato, Ed.S., NCSP, SP597
Lecturer in School Psychology
School Psychology Program
Cleveland State University

Michael Shockey, M.A.
School Psychology Intern
Cleveland State University
Rocky River City Schools


School psychologists are often asked to help calm out of control students (McNamara, York, Kubick, McMahon, & Clark, 2013). Administrators and teachers frequently assume that school psychologists are highly trained and skilled at implementing de-escalation strategies. After a short time with a school psychologist, unmanageable students are expected to be compliant and ready to return to the classroom, or await the arrival of a parent or guardian.

While most school psychologists receive some general training in counseling, few have studied and practiced the specific skills required for de-escalation. Ironically, for many school psychologists, this is the only type of counseling in which they ever engage (McNamara, et al., 2013). In the absence of knowledge about and training in de-escalation, school psychologists are left with only instinct and a basic toolkit of counseling skills to deal with crises that require competent and effective intervention. The following article seeks to explain, explore, and provide effective interventions for de-escalation.

De-escalation must be understood as a set of specific counseling interventions relevant only to an equally specific set of scenarios– intensely angry, upset, or otherwise unmanageable children (Price & Baker, 2012). General counseling techniques - rapport building cognitive behavioral therapy, etc. - are often effective in treating already deescalated children, but are rarely effective de-escalators in and of themselves. Further, functional behavioral analyses and behavior intervention plans may be able to prevent or decrease the severity of episodes requiring de-escalation, but these steps require time, frequent adjustment, and do not altogether eliminate the need for in-the-moment de-escalation. Consequently, school psychologists must possess a toolkit of strategies specifically designed for de-escalation. While there is an alarming lack of direct research on de-escalation in schools, other professions – law enforcement and nursing – can provide insight into this topic. Police officers and nurses in mental health facilities regularly engage in de-escalation and research from these fields may inform effective school-based interventions. However, not all de-escalation techniques from other professions are relevant to or appropriate for school-aged children, or the school environment. School psychologists must therefore use professional discretion in utilizing interventions from other fields. Nevertheless, in the absence of school-based research, intervention recommendations from other fields may very well result in more effective de-escalation outcomes.

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