Movements such as #CounselorsNotCops have garnered a lot of attention in recent months as the public becomes more aware of the role school counselors play in supporting students and preventing violence in schools. Below is a list of things that school counselors wish the public knew about their work.
School counseling is not the same as therapy.
The role of a school counselor is to support the student in school and ensure they are able to access their education. We focus on three main areas: academic, career, and social and emotional wellbeing. Our job is not to judge their feelings, but to listen and validate a student’s concerns and help them process their experience. In most situations, the school counselor will see a student no more than 5 to 8 times for a given issue before referring out (where possible) for more intensive interventions. According to ASCA standards, the average school counselor should have 250 students on their caseload; however, the actual student-to-counselor ratio is 482:1. Nearly double the recommended amount! A recent study conducted by the ACLU has shown that more than 1.4 million students nationwide are without a school counselor.
School Counselors were NOT trained as testing coordinators.
It is still baffling that school counselors are so often relegated as the testing coordinators given that in no way were they ever trained as testing coordinators. The curriculum of school counselors are based on therapeutic practices, techniques, and focus primarily on the mental health of students. Most school counselors, while capable of counting documents, login codes and ensuring test security, are typically not the best person suited for the task. Most school counselors thrive on connection and interpersonal interactions, I can assure you, test coordinating requires the exact opposite personality traits. In many schools in which the school counselor(s) are in charge of the testing process, the school counseling department is closed to counseling students. That means that during testing, arguably one of the most stressful times of the year for students, the counselor is unavailable to meet with them for weeks at a time.
School Counselors are connectors.
I often visualize the role of the school counselor as the hub in a spoked wheel. We are the people capable of uniting all of the stakeholders on behalf of the student. When we collaborate with the administration, parents, teachers, case managers, social workers, and the student, we are able to make sure that the student has all the necessary supports in place. Our only agenda is to support the student and advocate for what is best, which means that we are able to see the broad picture and not get bogged down in the egoic concerns that others might unwittingly bring to the table.
School Counseling is more than just individual sessions with students.
School counselors meet individually with students for counseling sessions, but we also do so much more. We develop and host small groups based on school needs, develop a curriculum that meets state counseling standards and then teach school counseling lessons to classrooms of students. We also attend parent meetings, Support Team meetings, and IEP meetings on behalf of students with whom we are working and offer solutions that others might not have considered given their vantage point. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, we are charged with the essential and often intense role of conducting threat and suicide assessments on students who threaten to harm themselves or others. We usually do all of that in between our “fair share” of other duties around the school such as bus duty or lunch duty.
We are not disciplinarians.
This should go without saying, but unfortunately, it can’t. School counselors should never be “the heavy” and dole out any sort of punishment or be charged with watching the students who are sentenced to in-school suspension. Students need a safe person with whom they confide their secrets and know that they won’t be punished. Trust is a critical component of the counseling relationship and one that shouldn’t be endangered by fear of discipline.
School counselors are professionals.
Most school counselors can’t help but cringe when you use the term “Guidance Counselor.” I know that’s the term most people are familiar with because that’s what most adults if they had a counselor in their school, called that person, but our profession has grown up a lot, and our new name reflects that shift. The school counseling profession began when empathetic teachers saw the need to help students beyond what the typical teacher could offer in their classroom setting. The modern day school counselor requires a master’s degree in which we are well trained in treating the emotional and psychological needs of students. Our goal is to help students overcome life stressors that would otherwise interfere with their education.