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Developing School Psychology in Vietnam

By Phuong Le, Kristi Hagans, Kristin Powers, & Michael Hass

Like China, Vietnam is a communist country with increasingly capitalist economic policies. A fundamental change occurred in these policies with the enactment of Vietnam’s “doi moi” (renovation) policy in 1986 that called for a “free market with socialist orientations.” However, this economic modernization has inadvertently changed the social dynamics of Vietnamese society and increased stress on families, communities, and schools. As a result of these changes, students in Vietnam are experiencing significant challenges, both at home and at school, which often translate to increases in the number of children experiencing learning, emotional, and behavioral difficulties. Nguyen and colleagues found 90% of students in Vietnam report experiencing learning problems; difficulty maintaining positive relationships with parents, teachers, and friends; and making career choices (M. Nguyen, H. Nguyen, T. Nguyen, & Tran, 2007). In addition to these learning, relationship, and vocational problems, more than 7 million Vietnamese school-age children are reported to exhibit mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, or oppositional defiant disorders (Nguyen et al., 2007). Similar to epidemiological data in the United States, this represents more than 20% of all school-age children. Social pressure to perform academically may be another factor in the reported increase in students’ mental health problems. When more than 97% of Vietnamese parents wanted their children to perform above average in schools, 64.92% of the students lived in incessant fear of having low grades and being reprimanded by parents or teachers, and 28.47% experienced poor appetite, fatigue, and tension (Hoang, 2005).

In order to address the mental health and behavioral needs of school-age children, the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) of Vietnam issued an official correspondence to all K–12 schools on April 4, 2005 (2564/BGD&DT-HSSV) and later on May 28, 2005 (9971/BGD&DT-HSSV) recommending the implementation of vocational and psychological counseling services to both upper and lower high school students (MOET, 2005). Unfortunately, this mandate represented a large unfunded government directive. Furthermore, MOET’s policy does not specify the academic preparation or type of training needed to provide these counseling services to students. As a result, many schools were unable to employ counselors whatsoever because of limited budgets, while others hired counselors who had very little professional preparation.

In a study conducted in Ho Chi Minh City regarding the qualifications of hired counselors, Tran and Do (2006) and Do (2006) found service providers to be mostly graduates of programs not directly related to psychology, such as law, journalism, or marketing. Furthermore, counseling staff may have received only short-term training, sometimes only 3 days, on how to meet the mental health needs of school-age children (Le, 2009). An in-depth analysis of 29 Vietnamese school counselors’ professional knowledge and competencies revealed few counselors with expertise in assessment, vocational guidance, academic and behavioral interventions, and crisis intervention (Le, 2009). Furthermore, counselors reported little confidence in their knowledge of evidence-based practices or how to take into account the diversity of students’ backgrounds, and limited access to training and resources (Le, 2009). For example, one counselor stated (translated by the author): “There are not many materials in this area [crisis interventions] in Vietnam. We have to read them in other languages. Materials [are] without proper sources, not official, scattered, just for the public.” Without appropriate training and adequate knowledge, Vietnamese counselors reported sometimes administering assessments with questionable validity. As shared by a counselor:

They [Chinese test marketing company] believe that the test is very accurate and publicize it in schools so parents can bring their children in [the counseling center] for testing…. The test identifies individual strengths and limitations. It is based on the individual’s fingerprints.

The lack of funding and professional training has limited the progress of schoolbased mental health services for Vietnamese children. For example, despite the documented needs of children and the mandate from MOET to establish counseling centers on school campuses, Dang (2007) found that school mental health services continue to be very limited in Vietnam. This lack of significant progress led Le, La, and Dinh (2007) to conclude that the government failed to adequately address the mental health needs of Vietnamese children.

Establishing Professional School Psychology in Vietnam

In May 2007, students and faculty from St. John’s University (STJ) school psychology program visited Hanoi to learn about the Vietnamese educational system and to develop a relationship with MOET professionals (Terjesen & Kassay, 2007). This visit was followed by a second trip in January 2008 in which they collaborated with faculty from Hanoi National University of Education (HNUE) within the University of Pedagogy to discuss establishing a school psychology training program. The 10 days of meetings focused on defining best practices, curriculum development, and fieldwork as well as logistics, roles, and responsibilities for establishing a school psychology program in Vietnam (Terjesen & Kassay, 2007). In addition, cultural consistencies and inconsistencies were discussed. For example, the word “consultation” does not exist in the Vietnamese language, and consultationbased service delivery is a novel concept in Vietnam (Terjesen, Kassay, & Bolger, 2008). The following summer, STJ faculty provided six 20-hour training courses to HNUE faculty and professionals in a “train the trainers” model. Exciting and ground-breaking work on establishing school psychology as a profession was accomplished by Terjesen and his colleagues; however, given the tremendous needs, distance between America and Vietnam, and the paucity of funds, there was a need to create a consortium of both Vietnamese and American institutions to better coordinate training efforts and increase the pool of trainers.

Th e Conso rtium to Advance Scho l Psycho log y in Vietnam

The Consortium to Advance School Psychology in Vietnam (CASP-V) was established in January 2010 to institutionalize a growing collaborative between U.S. and Vietnamese universities. This collaboration began in the summer of 2007 with faculty from the Institute of Psychology in Vietnam (IOP) and the school psychology program at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) discussing the need to adequately meet the academic, emotional, and behavioral needs of school-age children in Vietnam, and, ultimately, establish a unified training program in school psychology in Vietnam. Faculty from IOP and CSULB invited potential collaborators from other U.S. and Vietnam training programs in school psychology, psychology, and education to join the endeavor. During a visit to the United States to meet with potential collaborators from the California State University system in the spring of 2008, a delegation from the Vietnam National University of Ho Chi Minh City presented a proposal to school psychology faculty from CSULB asking for support to create a training program in school psychology in Vietnam. These efforts culminated in the first U.S.–Vietnam conference on school psychology held in Hà Nô. i on August 3 and 4, 2009. CSULB, Chapman University, and the following eight universities and one research institute from Vietnam hosted a conference entitled Needs, Direction and Training of School Psychology in Vietnam:

  • Institute of Psychology (IOP)
  • University of Social Sciences and Humanities–Vietnam National University, Hà Nôi
  • University of Social Sciences and Humanities–Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City
  • University of Education–Vietnam National University, Hà Nô.i
  • Hà Nô. i National University of Education
  • Dong A University, Danang
  • College of Education–Danang University
  • College of Education–Hue University

The conference opening ceremony included a speech by U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Michael Michalak, who stated:

… [Y]ou came up with this plan, and the idea of holding this conference, in response to needs you observed in the education system and in the lives of its students. It is not something that you have been told to do, but rather, you want to do, to improve the quality of life of students in Vietnam. I commend you for being innovative and proactive, for these are the actions of a modern society that values and cares for each other, and I support your efforts. You are doing an important work here and I will encourage other U.S. institutions, in addition to the California State University system and Chapman University, who are supporting you here today, to help you move beyond this conference to reach your educational goals.

After the opening ceremony, faculty from the 11 collaborating institutions, as well as educators and mental health service providers from the United States and Vietnam, presented on various topics related to psychology and education including (a) school psychology service delivery in the United States, (b) psychological disturbances in secondary school students in Hanoi, (c) rising incidence of online addiction in Vietnam, (d) school counseling in secondary settings, (e) Dinh Tien Hoang Secondary school as an model for school-based mental health, (f) a day in the life of a U.S. school psychologist, (g) home–school partnerships, and (h) critical issues to establishing school psychology in Vietnam. Specific mental health needs were identified by conference attendees including violence prevention programs in schools, responding to relational aggression, and identifying and treating video game addiction. Finally, the potential for curbing human trafficking by improving schools, student achievement, and persistence was discussed. Approximately 200 people from the United States, Australia, France, and Vietnam attended the conference, and the proceedings were published in a compendium named after the conference. A closed session at the end of the conference among representatives of the 11 institutions resulted in three overarching goals: (a) develop a consortium to share information and avoid duplication of effort and training; (b) provide ongoing training of trainers, students, and practitioners; and (c) develop curriculum materials.

Following the conference, the CASP-V was established among five U.S. universities (CSULB; Chapman University; Loyola Marymount University; California State University, Humboldt; and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology), seven universities in Vietnam (University of Social Sciences and Humanities-Vietnam National University, Hanoi; Hanoi National University of Education; University of Education–Vietnam National University, Hanoi; College of Education-Danang University; College of Education–Hue University; and University of Social Sciences and Humanities–Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City), and the International Association of School Psychologists (ISPA). The overriding goal of CASP-V is to establish the discipline and profession of school psychology in Vietnam and promote the development of high quality training and practices in school psychology. In so doing, members of CASP-V are continuing to establish collaborative relationships with Vietnamese governmental and nongovernmental agencies and academic institutions to develop training guidelines and professional and ethical standards for the practice of school psychology in Vietnam.

Members of CASP-V from Chapman University; California State University, Humboldt; Loyola Marymount University; and the Long Beach Unified School District returned to Vietnam in the summer of 2010 to conduct workshops in Hà Nô. i and Ho Chi Minh City. Over 100 Vietnamese academics, practitioners, and students were involved in 2- and 3-day workshops on school-based counseling services from a public health perspective, strategies for identifying and dealing with internalizing and externalizing behavior problems, online videogame addiction, school bullying and violence prevention, class- and school-wide behavior supports, and using data to monitor student success. In addition to the workshops, CASP-V members Phuong Le, Brent Duncan, Brian Leung, and Michael Hass met with eight Vietnamese institutions to discuss such topics as collaborative research, curriculum development, and student exchanges. Within the consortium, a committee of Vietnamese and American faculty planned the Second International Conference on School Psychology in Vietnam held on January 6 and 7, 2011, in Hue. School psychology trainers, program directors, and practitioners from Vietnam, United States, and other countries presented papers and symposia on a range of topics to advance school psychology in Vietnam. Conference topics included the current status of student support services in Vietnam; academic, behavioral, and social–emotional needs of youth in Vietnam; training guidelines, service delivery models, and practices of school psychology around the world; and conducting high-quality research in international school settings.

Critical Issues to the Future of School Psychology in Vietnam

Educating all children. Oakland and Jimerson (2007) assert that school psychology is more likely to become established in another country if it serves the national needs and values of its society. Kassay and Terjesen (2009) suggest education is highly valued in Vietnam as evidenced by their commitment to universal education, albeit only up to 5th grade, and recent and projected increases in the country’s budget for education. Indeed, education expenditure as a share of total government spending is expected to increase to 20% by 2015, up from 15% in 1990 (Pham & Jones, 2007). Additionally, the government’s push toward modernization and the need for a skilled workforce has prompted the country to adopt National Education for All (Socialist Republic of Vietnam, 2003), an initiative on improving the quality of education in Vietnam.

School psychology training and practice in Vietnam. One of the issues much discussed in our meetings with colleagues from different Vietnamese universities is whether school psychology would constitute training at the bachelor’s or master’s level. Wealthier countries are more likely to offer graduate preparation in school psychology while countries with low gross national product are more likely to train at the undergraduate level (Oakland & Jimerson, 2007). While Vietnam’s economy is expanding, average income is only a little over a $1,000 per year (U.S. Department of State, 2010).

Another topic of discussion is the nature of the school psychology services in Vietnam. For example, will school psychologists act as psychometricians, interventionists, mental health specialists or consultants, or some combination of these roles? Nguyen (2009) suggested that an interventionist rather than psychometrican approach might serve children in Vietnam best. Other discussions suggest an expanded ecological model that combines elements of the roles of school psychologists, school counselors, and social workers. For example, CASP-V’s Vietnamese members have consistently identified career or vocational counseling as a necessary skill for school psychologists, a function typically conducted by school counselors in the United States. An important consideration is that Vietnam’s societal values and beliefs place an emphasis on interdependence, with family and community taking precedence over individual needs and self-fulfillment (Schirmer, Cartwright, Montegut, Dreher, & Stovall, 2004), suggesting it will be vital for school psychologists to work effectively with families and communities, and not be bound by the schoolhouse walls in the same way that school psychologists are in the United States. CASP-V’s members hope to avoid some of the historic shortcomings and turf battles of school psychology that have occurred in America by establishing a profession based on an ecological approach to prevention and intervention with school-age children.


Establishing the profession of school psychology is both an exciting and, at times, overwhelming project; something that can clearly only be accomplished by hard work, patience, and, most importantly, collaboration. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the consortium’s activities has been the increase of multilateral communication among universities in two countries. This sharing of perspectives has been an enriching experience for all participants. CASP-V invites those who are interested in our project or international school psychology in general to contact us for more information.

For information regarding the January 2011 conference please contact Kristin Powers, PhD, at kpowers@csulb.edu or Kristi Hagans at khagansm@csulb.edu. For general information regarding CASP-V and its projects, please contact Michael Hass, PhD, at mhass@chapman.edu or Phuong Le, EdD, at PLe@lbschools.net.


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