School counseling provides a safe place in school for children and young people to discuss and address worries and concerns. Mental health is important to children’s overall health and includes emotional, mental, and behavioral well-being. Mental disorders among children affect the way they learn, behave, and handle emotions. School counselors use evidence-based practice to support mental health on a continuum of care. In recent years, school counselors have provided a tiered support system.
School counselors are master’s level practitioners who work in school settings to provide students with care and support so they can reach their full potential. The main objective of this role is to help students resolve any issues affecting their school development and performance. School counselors work with other professionals, such as teachers and counselors, to learn about a student’s difficulties and find an appropriate solution.
Mental health is overall wellness in thinking and regulating feelings and behavior. A mental health disorder is patterns or changes in thinking, feeling, or behavior that cause distress or hinder someone’s ability to function. Mental health disorders in children can be disruptions or delays in developing age-appropriate thinking, social skills, or emotional regulation. These problems can prevent children from functioning well in school, at home, or in other social situations.
For those who wish to pursue a career in school counseling, St. Bonaventure University offers an online master’s degree. The program focuses on counseling theories and how to use these in school. There is a demand for school counselors in schools all over the country. If you’re interested in a career in counseling, you should find out more about how to become a school counselor at SBU.
Tiered system of support
There are three tiers in this system of support used by school counselors. Tier one interventions and services are for all students. They are developmental and are aimed at prevention. School counselors develop mental health skills for students, families, and staff. Social and emotional learning is part of the curriculum, and a safe and caring learning environment is in place. Relationships are built with families and the community, and there is a decision-making framework related to mental health services. Some students will have experienced trauma, and to support them at tier one level, school counselors can introduce trauma-informed classroom methods to teachers, administrators, and other school staff. Trauma-informed practices at this level can include building rapport with students, teaching stakeholders about stress and coping strategies, and collecting data to assess and address student needs. Social and emotional learning is preventative and provided to all students.
Tier two is a targeted intervention for at-risk students who need additional support. School counselors provide small, psychoeducational group support at this level. The small groups focus on the particular needs of students. School counselors can provide short-term support groups for students. The group sessions should use evidence-based practices.
Examples of support groups could be those focused on social skills or grief and loss. School counselors also provide individual counseling to address particular topics at tier two level. During counseling sessions, counselors look for warning signs of mental health concerns, such as behavior changes or academic performance. School counselors ensure that all stakeholders have access to resources on mental health support. They also provide strategies and education for school staff on supporting students.
The most intensive support is tier three. This comprehensive process involves key stakeholders working together to address students’ needs. Barriers to student success can come from different areas of life, such as family, school, and community. All relevant stakeholders need to be involved in working with at-risk students. These stakeholders include students, families, administrators, mental health professionals, and outside agencies. The student can discuss barriers and give insight into the most suitable interventions. Families can give their views on strategies and behaviors. Family support can be a great help to the student.
School counselors try to build rapport with families and support them in joining meetings about the student. Teachers can play an essential role by offering social support, and administrators can provide support and discuss effective strategies. The mental health professionals could include the school counselor, school psychologist, or clinical counselor. At tier three level, mental health services include individual counseling, crisis intervention, outside counseling, small group counseling, behavior plans, and stakeholder development plans.
Research has shown that the multi-tiered support system involving intervention and prevention programs can help decrease negative behaviors, give more access to resources, improve collaboration among parties, enhance student engagement, and improve student academic progress.
School counseling programs
School counselors aim to build a school culture that means students can reach their potential. The school culture is built daily, and beneficial actions result in an effective counseling program. The main roles embodied by the school counselor include advocacy, leadership, academic planning, and support. They use counseling services, collaboration, and consultation to address matters preventing student success and will efficiently and effectively distribute resources to students, parents/caregivers, and other stakeholders.
School counselors are trained to establish a school counseling program, recognize mental health risk factors and developmental concerns, and provide counseling. School counselors have a scope of practice that does not include diagnosing students or providing ongoing therapy. This is mainly to ensure they are available to all students during the school day. It is essential to practice within the school counseling program.
School counselors must advocate and promote equity and access for all students by implementing school counseling programs. The ASCA (American School Counselor Association) Ethical Standards for School Counselors provides guidance for this work. The counseling program should include preventative and early intervention measures and the referral of students who need long-term counseling to external resources.
When a school counselor believes a student has a mental health problem, they refer the student to a specialist. Educational psychologists or neuropsychologists can diagnose learning difficulties, and psychiatrists, physicians, or clinical psychologists can diagnose ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
School counselors educate children, parents, and school staff on mental health. They promote healthy behaviors and try and remove the stigma associated with mental illness. School counselors provide students with appraisal and advice to understand their abilities, skills, achievements, and interests. They also make recommendations based on the appraisal of test inventories and other data.
School counselors know the mental health warning signs to look out for. It can be harder to recognize mental health disorders in children because growing up involves constant change. Symptoms may differ according to age, and a child may find it difficult to express their feelings.
When a student is mentally unwell, it may show in mood, behavior, or personality changes. They may withdraw and not want to engage with others. They may become very irritable and angry and take unusual risks, which could be harmful. Some young people may resort to damaging coping mechanisms, such as unhealthy relationships or increased sexual activity.
School counselors follow best practices in educational psychology to develop and implement school counseling programs that improve student outcomes. School counselors understand how the school context, socioeconomic environment, learner demographics, and resources combine to allow the school’s academic mission and improvement plan to succeed.
By developing inclusive counseling programs, school counselors are essential to ensuring the success of special needs students and disadvantaged groups. They create a safe environment and promote equity and access so that students can achieve academic success and develop critical social skills. Social skills such as interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, and emotional regulation strategies assist students in adapting to their environments and dealing with challenging situations.
Studies have found that students from low-income families and students of color benefit particularly from contact with school counselors. When there are low student-to-counselor ratios, as recommended by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) in high-poverty schools, students have better academic outcomes, including fewer disciplinary incidents, improved attendance, and higher graduation rates.
School counselors provide individual counseling to students as needed. This support can be therapeutic, but the school counselor does not diagnose or provide therapy. Their role is to provide support to help students overcome challenges affecting their school performance. Some topics that school counselors help with include divorce, bullying, conflict resolution, and problem-solving.
It is recommended that school counseling is short-term. Individual counseling takes up time, limiting the number of students the counselor can see. However, it is necessary to provide this for some students. One counseling aim is to teach students the skills and knowledge to manage different situations. The counselor explains to the student that the meetings will be for a set amount of time, and they agree on a goal for the student to work toward. The student needs to be involved in goal planning so they are motivated and focused. Here is an example of an agenda for a session:
- Warmup activity
- Short lesson on a particular skill
- Activity for skill practice
- Activity to demonstrate skill
- Cooldown activity
- Exit ticket (if chosen)
Studies have found that involving parents/caregivers significantly improves success rates and long-term change. Teachers can also make a difference in the success of an intervention. School counselors can send parents/caregivers and teachers a short, weekly message suggesting one strategy that could be prompted at home or school. The student’s exit ticket each week could be to write down the strategy they will use that week.
Small group counseling
Small group counseling places can be requested by the students, parents/caregivers, or school staff. Small groups usually meet weekly for about six to eight weeks. Counselors contact the teachers to find the most suitable time to meet. Students can learn more about themselves, develop coping strategies and self-awareness, increase confidence, and spend time with other students, receiving and giving support.
Counselors practice skills by using discussion, role play, books, art, and music. These sessions can cover anger management, grief and loss, self-esteem, emotional awareness, and self-regulation.
School counseling support groups are psychoeducational and help students learn information and develop skills for challenging situations through educational techniques. The school counselor may have a group of students dealing with family changes like divorce. These students might benefit from a psychoeducational group that provides information on how to manage the stress that divorce can bring.
Members of the group can be identified with a school needs assessment. Short interviews can then be conducted to explain the content and purpose of the group, and permission forms can be given if they are interested. The counselor may start the group with a warmup exercise. This could be a mindfulness exercise where everyone puts their heads down and concentrates on their breathing for one minute. This can be a calming way to start the session. The counselor runs through the ground rules for the group. This could include confidentiality and not repeating what others say outside of the group. The counselor can teach members about SMART goals, and these can be reviewed at each meeting. The counselor can deliver a mini-lesson on the session topic.
Group counseling involves students working on activities and building supportive relationships. It is an efficient and positive way to provide services to students with situational concerns and social/emotional developmental issues. Group counseling can help reduce negative emotions and social isolation and can build a sense of belonging and positive peer relationships. The group builds a caring and trusting environment that allows students to share their concerns with fellow students and the school counselor.
School counselors are responsible for screening potential group members and addressing the group’s purpose, goals, informed consent, voluntary participation, and confidentiality. Best practice includes parental/caregiver agreement and student consent to participate. School counselors are prepared to recognize and address student mental health needs and crises. They address barriers to success by delivering instruction that increases mental health awareness and short-term intervention such as small group counseling until the student is connected with the right help. Group counseling is an important part of a school counseling program. The school counselor’s training in group process benefits students, their families, and all of the school staff.
The National Survey of Children’s Health 2021 found an increase in students experiencing mental health concerns. The study looked for positive indicators of mental health, the number of children diagnosed with mental health disorders, and whether they had received treatment. The data on mental health showed that 77% of children were mentally well, whereas 23% had at least one mental health disorder. Anxiety, ADHD, depression, and behavior problems were children’s most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders. Some of these conditions commonly occur together. For example, three in four children with depression also had anxiety. Among adolescents aged 12-17 years, 15% had experienced a major depressive episode, and 37% had persistent feelings of hopelessness or sadness.
The ASCA’s National Model is a framework for a data collection school counseling program. It was developed with the idea that counseling decisions should be based on available data to achieve the best possible outcomes. When school counselors use this program, there is equitable access to a full education for all students at their school. The program includes four components: delivery, foundation, management, and accountability. Delivery of service is the largest component of the model and includes responsive services, individual student planning, and the basic counseling curriculum. To show the effectiveness of their program, school counselors interpret program data to see how students have changed because of the comprehensive program.
The school’s counseling program’s focus and direction are based on students’ needs as determined through a review of the school’s data. Understanding data can ensure equitable services and beneficial experiences with the school counseling program. School counselors review school data to reveal trends across grades and years. They use data to determine if program strategies, interventions, and activities have been effective and to make decisions about future practice.
School counselors regularly review data collected by teachers and administrators. However, they need additional information to intervene effectively for students. There are a variety of ways they can collect this information digitally. Counselors can use digital survey tools to find out from students how things are going with friends, at school, and at home. The best way to get accurate information is to directly ask the students. Once they have this data, they can develop counseling programs.
Counselors have data about family and social circumstances that they can use to help struggling students.
School counselor is a multifaceted role that highly trained practitioners undertake. Part of this role is to provide services to students with mental health problems. School counselors identify those with mental health issues and connect them with external specialists who can help them. School counselors implement a three-tier system of support that ensures all students have their needs met. School counselors keep students safe and provide an invaluable service to students and schools.