Theoretical Orientation


“If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make a difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t make a difference how smart your are…” 

-Richard Feynman (1964)

As an instructor, I like to think of myself as a school psychologist who just happens to be practicing within an academic setting. In general, I am committed to a cognitive-behavioral orientation in my teaching and clinical practice. While I believe in the foundational tenets of behaviorism, I also recognize the role of cognition and thinking in everyday behaviors. I also believe that clinical problems are best viewed through an ecological lens and have been heavily influenced by the systems theories of Bronfenbrenner (1979), Watzlawick and colleagues (1967) and Bandura (2001). Although I am an empiricist and advocate of quantitative psychology, I recognize the limitations in narrow theoretical approaches to practice (e.g., Dombrowski, Ambrose, & Clinton, 2007). I believe that an eclectic approach that is able to synthesize multiple theoretical viewpoints is most effective for preventing, identifying, and treating clinical problems.  As a result, I feel particularly well suited to teaching graduate students who are committed to pursuing professional careers in education and school psychology.

In my courses, I rely heavily on the scientist- practitioner (e.g., Kratochwill & Shernoff, 2004) orientation to practice by requiring that students become well-acquainted with refereed and peer-reviewed psychological and educational research. I purposefully introduce disequilibrium by demanding that students understand the knowledge base, or lack of existing knowledge, which supports any tool or intervention they are utilizing in the field. In this way, students will hopefully gain experience in questioning the types of activities they are asked to conduct, and appreciate the necessity of grounding professional practice in scientific knowledge.

In that vein, I have been heavily influenced by the writings of Paul Meehl (1973, 1978, 1997), Robyn Dawes (1979, 2005), Marley Watkins (2000, 2009) and Scott Lilienfeld and colleagues (Lilienfeld, Ammirati, & David, 2012) and believe in consistently modeling an attitude that embraces scientific thinking and statistical reasoning in my training and teaching. I believe one of the biggest impediments to evidenced-based practice is the omnipresent threat of pseudoscience in our field, as a safeguard, I frequently utilize debiasing techniques in my courses.

Given the dramatic pace and scope of change in educational practices, and the increased accountability demands in public schools, a key goal is for students to learn how to access information to solve problems that go beyond their current knowledge base, and to be able to assess the effectiveness of the interventions they recommend or assist others to develop. I believe that it is incumbent upon school psychologists to establish evidence-based and empirically supported assessment and intervention techniques (e.g., Youngstrom, Choukas-Bradley, Calhoun, & Jensen-Doss, 2015). As psychological engineers, school psychologists are frequently called upon to make important decisions about children and adolescents in schools. As per Weiner (1989), ethical clinicians know what their technologies can do and “act accordingly” (p. 829).


Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 1-26.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Harvard University Press.

Dawes, R. M. (1979). The robust beauty of improper linear models in decision making. American Psychologist, 34(7), 571-582.

Dawes, R. M. (2005). The ethical implications of Paul Meehl’s work on comparing clinical versus actuarial prediction methods. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61(10), 1245-1255.

Dombrowski. S. C., Ambrose, D., & Clinton, A. (2007). Dogmatic insularity in learning disabilities classification and the critical need for a philosophical analysis. International Journal of Special Education, 22(1), 3-10.

Kratochwill, T. R., & Shernoff, E. S. (2004). Evidence-based practice: Promoting evidence-based interventions in school psychology. School Psychology Review, 33(4), 34-48.

Lilienfeld, S. O., Ammirati, R., & David, M. (2012). Distinguishing between science pseudoscience in school psychology: Science and scientific thinking as safeguards against human error. Journal of School Psychology, 50(1), 7-36.

Meehl. P. E. (1973). Psychodiagnosis: Selected papers. University of Minnesota Press.

Meehl. P. E., (1978). Theoretical risk and tabular asterisks: Sir Karl, Sir Ronald, and the slow progress of soft psychology. Journal of Consulting and Counseling Psychology, 46(4), 806-834.

Meehl, P. E. (1997). Credentialed persons, credentialed knowledge. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 4(2), 91-98.

Watkins, M. W. (2000). Cognitive profile analysis: A shared professional myth. School Psychology Quarterly, 15(4), 465-479.

Watkins, M. W. (2009). Errors in diagnostic decision making and clinical judgement. In T. B. Gutkin & C. R. Reynolds (Eds.), Handbook of school psychology (4th ed., pp. 210-229). John Wiley.

Watzlawick, P., Bavelas, J. B., & Jackson, D. D. (1967). Pragmatics of human communication: Interactional patterns, pathologies, and paradoxes. W. W. Norton.

Weiner, I. B. (1989). On competence and ethicality in psychodiagnostic assessment. Journal of Personality Assessment, 53(4), 827-831.

Youngstrom, E. A., Choukas-Bradley, S., Calhoun, C. D., & Jensen-Doss, A. (2015). Clinical guide to the evidence-based assessment approach to diagnosis and treatment. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 22(1), 20-35.