Mode of Therapy – School Counseling

Many people receive their first introduction to any type of counseling at their school. Almost every academic institution has school counselors on hand to help students with academics and to furnish career guidance. The school counselor supplies students with the information they need to be academically successful and provides social and emotional support as well.

Assisting students in preparing for college and in readying themselves for their careers is an important, multi-faceted counseling role. The counselor must have the ability to connect with students of different ages and all academic levels, remain empathetic, and have the ability to understand and navigate academic systems. In addition, the counselor must provide support to instructional personnel and school administrators as they work to improve the school’s culture and climate.

What Is School Counseling?

The school counseling role comprises much more than simply handing out class schedules, dealing with disciplinary problems, and helping students apply to college. An academically focused form of counseling, in this position, the counselor provides enrolled or prospective students with support, guidance, and follow-up with academic stressors, as well as with emotional or relationship issues that may develop during the student’s academic career.

School counselors typically use a combination of therapeutic models to support the student body, including:

  • Small-group counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • Core curriculum lessons regarding issues addressed in counseling

The exact job description of the school counselor changes from day to day, depending upon the needs of the students. The school counselor assists with administrative duties such as student academic planning, course scheduling, and applying for colleges. In addition, as reported by the American School Counselor Association, the counselor is responsible for multiple tasks:

  • Counseling students in crisis
  • Helping students deal with emotional issues such as performance and testing anxiety
  • Analyzing school data to help administrators better understand student needs
  • Interpreting achievement, cognitive, aptitude, and achievement tests
  • Suggesting appropriate school attire
  • Advocating for the students

Student counselors help ensure that today’s students become the productive, mature, well-adjusted adults of tomorrow.

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The School Counseling Environment

School counselors hold a fundamental position within the academic setting. School counselors have offices in the school, typically in a centralized location that students can easily locate when they need support. School counseling offices often include several smaller offices: individual spaces so the counselor can meet with students one-on-one and larger rooms in which they conduct small-group meetings, including the student’s family, when necessary.

Additionally, the counseling environment must be a secure space, a “harbor” where the students can feel as if they can trust the counselor and confide their concerns about their home lives, as well as about their struggles and successes in the classroom. A strong school counseling center is a positive, encouraging, safe space, and it is the school counselor’s responsibility to create this sort of atmosphere for the students.

Historical Background of School Counseling

School counseling is an evolving profession, one that, just within the last two or three decades, has shifted rhetorically as well as pragmatically. The counseling center within the school was once referred to as the “school guidance office,” and the counselors who worked in that office were referred to as “guidance counselors.” While these appellations still exist in some contexts, the counselors have shifted from simply a guidance counselor role; instead, now, they are called “school counselors,” and their duties have expanded as well.

Today, school counselor’s responsibilities encompass much more than those of the traditional guidance counselor. Many former students may remember their guidance counselor as someone who helped with scheduling and college application issues, processed a class change, or counseled them when they were tardy or absent. The job of the guidance counselor was largely administrative, and, before the advent of computers, the counselor typically organized student records using notecards and steel filing cabinets.

This position didn’t leave much time or space for student/counselor personal relationships. Unless students needed a change of class or a letter of recommendation, they could complete their entire academic careers without once meeting the school’s guidance counselor.

Today’s school counselor performs a different role. Still in charge of scheduling and guidance for college acceptance, the school counselor is an active participant in the climate and culture of the school, also acting as a resource and contact point for students in need of emotional support or behavioral guidance. The school counselor’s position involves taking disciplinary actions, dealing with crisis situations, and even stepping into the classroom as needed to lead group-discussions on study habits, time management, and other organizational skills.

In short, the school counselor is a mental health counselor positioned to act as a beacon of support and guidance to the student body in any capacity at any given time. The role is important, and it goes far beyond simply scheduling and completing paperwork. A skilled school counselor seamlessly switches back and forth between tasks, interacts with students in a genuine manner, and works as part of a larger team to contribute to the school’s success.

Guiding Principles of School Counseling

The school counselor provides services to all the students enrolled at the academic institution, regardless of economic status, religion, race, or other demographic factors. These services include providing academic guidance, helping with college and career preparation, giving emotional support, engaging in the student’s social development, and organizing, among myriad other responsibilities.

The school counselor’s typical everyday tasks include interacting with students and offering direct service and support to the student body in any capacity necessary. While doing so, school counselors must adhere to mental health counseling professional principles and provide a positive and healing environment that is supportive of the student body.

A school counselor’s abiding primary principle is confidentiality, especially when building rapport with members of the student body and the instructional team. In many settings, the school counselor works with students who are under the age of 18, which means that the counselor must be aware of the parameters of parental involvement and understand FERPA expectations in student-parent relationships.

The Role of School Counselors: What Does a School Counselor Do?

The answer to this question depends on the day of the week, the time period in the semester, and the student who requires assistance. On some days, the school counselor confers with administrators to determine course offerings and scheduling solutions for the student body. Other days, the school counselor meets with students and parents, distributing materials and describing expectations. Other days, the school counselor conducts sessions with students, helping them work through an emotional crisis; a social relationship; a behavioral problem; an anxiety attack; depression or suicidal thoughts; or even helping them develop better time management and organization skills.

The responsibilities of a school counselor include:

  • Academic planning
  • Providing student counseling relative to:
    • attendance and excessive absences
    • academic concerns
    • career and college readiness
  • Identifying student needs and working with administrators to meet those needs
  • Advocating for students at Individual Educational Plan (IEP) meetings
  • Consulting with teachers as to effective classroom management practices
  • Designing and instructing school counseling core curriculum classes

Scope of Practice

School counselors identify areas of need and incorporate organizational strategies that are appropriate in the context of the academic environment. The primary goal of the counselor is to facilitate a learning environment that helps the student have a successful academic career and the opportunity for growth.

While many school counselors undergo training in programs similar to that of mental health counselors, it is not the job of the school counselor to provide routine mental health counseling sessions to students. Instead, school counselors are responsible for using their background knowledge in mental health principles to identify primary areas of concern and refer students to available services on as-needed basis. Therefore, to act as an informed liaison if a student needs additional services, the school counselor must have knowledge of the various community and academic resources available to students.

It is not the position of the school counselor to provide medications for mental health concerns. Only medical professionals can prescribe medication, and only they can manage its administration. Concerns regarding medication should be referred to these professionals.

Education, Training, and Licensing

The requirements to become a school counselor differ from state to state. In most states, a school counselor requires a Master’s of Arts degree in Counseling. In some states, the counselor must acquire a degree in school counseling, while other states will accept a degree in any type of counseling. In addition to the master’s degree, the school counselor must pass certification examinations, engage in ongoing professional workshops and learning communities, and work with employment offices to meet any additional requirements required as a condition of employment.

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Two organizations provide school counseling-related certification options. These organizations are the National Board for Certified Counselors and Affiliates, Inc. (NBCC) and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Completion of a master’s degree in counseling is required prior to completing the certification standards for both boards.

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